Jeremy wiggles constantly in his chair. It keeps him from getting his work done and is very distracting to the students sitting near him.
Manny talks to his neighbors all the time instead of doing his work. He’s always interested in what everyone else is doing, but he can’t seem to pay attention to his own work.
Sara tries really hard to be “good.” She sits up tall and looks right at the teacher. But pretty soon, she’s fiddling with things on her desk or staring straight through the teacher. When it’s time to start working, Sara always has to ask, “What were we supposed to do?”
Rachel never knows what she’s supposed to do for homework. She uses her planner, but what she’s written is incomplete and doesn’t make a lot of sense. If she does do her homework, she usually can’t find it when it’s time to turn it in.
Jessica is getting Ds and Fs in high school. She can read, write, spell, and do math but she doesn’t pay attention in class, does poorly on tests, and doesn’t get her work done.
What do these students have in common? Each of these children has trouble paying attention in class, yet
Not one of them has Attention Deficit Disorder.
Good attention and efficient learning depend upon a solid foundation of underlying learning skills
The vast majority of students who come to our learning center have some challenges with attention, but only a small minority are truly ADHD. Successful, easy learning depends upon a solid foundation of underlying learning skills. These skills include the following:
Developmental Learning Skills: These are basic visual and motor skills that help children develop a sense of self, internal organization, and body and attention awareness and control.
Processing Skills: These are skills such as attention, memory, auditory and visual processing (how we think about and understand things that we see or hear), processing speed, language comprehension, and phonemic awareness (the thinking process critical to reading that supports learning and using phonics).
Executive Function: This is our personal manager that guides and directs our attention and behavior. It helps us reason, problem solve, organize, and make decisions.
Poor attention in class may be a symptom, not the real problem
If a child has problems with any of the underlying learning skills, his attention system will also be stressed. While attention may become a problem in school or with homework, it may not actually be the real problem.
Five Different Learning Challenges Affecting Attention
Jeremy, our wiggly, distracting student can’t sit still in his chair because of a retained primitive reflex called the Spinal Galant.
Primitive reflexes are involuntary movements that are present in infants to help with the birth process and adaptation as a newborn. If these reflexes don’t “disappear” within about the first year of life, they will continue to fire and cause neurological interference that inhibits efficient development and easy learning.
Jeremy’s retained Spinal Gallant reflex causes him to wiggle in his chair when he doesn’t mean to. When he tries hard to sit still, it takes all of his attention, so he can’t really think about what the teacher is saying or what he’s supposed to be doing on his assignments.
Manny is dyslexic. He’s very smart and very clever. He has memorized some words, but he can’t sound out new words and sometimes when he looks at the page, it seems like the words and letters are moving around. At nine-years-old, he’s already figured out that getting in trouble for “entertaining” his neighbors is better than anyone knowing he can’t read.
Sara has an auditory processing problem. She tries so hard to listen, but what she’s hearing is spotty and inconsistent, like a bad cell phone connection. She tries to fill-in the gaps, but pretty soon, it just doesn’t make sense and she can’t keep her attention on it anymore.
Rachel has poor visual memory skills. When she tries to copy down assignments, she has to look back and forth so many times between the board and her planner, that she often loses her place and misses part of the information.
It takes her longer than the other students, so she often doesn’t finish because its embarrassing to have to stay after class copying the assignment.
When Rachel does her homework, she sticks it in her backpack. The problem is, she can’t hold a picture in her mind of exactly where it is, so when it’s time to turn it in the next day, she can’t remember where she put it. Well-meaning teachers and family have suggested that maybe Ritalin would help her pay better attention. They don’t realize that Rachel is paying attention, but her visual memory is not supporting her well enough to remember the information.
Jessica has weak processing and executive function skills. She’s pretty sure her parents and teacher are right when they say she’s lazy and unmotivated because she just can’t seem to pay attention and get her work done.
Weak underlying processing and executive function skills can keep a capable student from being able to pull it altogether to perform as expected. They struggle to keep up and have inconsistent homework grades and test scores.
Addressing the root cause of the poor attention symptom
can eliminate the problem
All five of these students were able to solve their attention and learning challenges by developing the underlying learning skills that were not supporting them well enough.
Jeremy went through Core Learning Skills Training to integrate his retained reflexes and improve his body awareness and control. He no longer stands out in class.
Manny went through a specialized auditory stimulation and reading program to develop his phonemic awareness and ability to look at the words on the page without getting disoriented. He can now understand how the sounds in words work and has learned to read and spell. He’s putting his strong verbal abilities and humor to use in the school play.
Sara went through a program of Auditory Stimulation and Training to increase her auditory processing skills. She is able to listen to her teacher and her friends now without getting exhausted and missing information. She no longer feels lost and anxious and is able to be the good student she always tried to be.
Rachel received training in various visual processing, visual memory, and organization skills. She can now copy from the board and use her planner accurately most of the time. She is more organized and can remember where her homework is in her folder.
Jessica did an intensive processing skills program called PACE and before she finished the 12-week program, she had brought her grades up to As and Bs.
Don’t ignore attention problems in school
Problems paying attention in class can be a sign to parents that their child is struggling in school. This should not be ignored.
But parents and teachers should be aware that whenever an area of underlying processing or learning skills is inefficient, extra energy will be needed to perform. This stresses the person’s attention.
It is important to look very carefully to determine if the attention challenges seen in class are the cause of the learning problem or the symptom.