Can’t or Won’t Listen? Understanding Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder

Posted on December 30, 2012 by VITAL WorkLife

You know your kid's smart—why doesn't he or she do better in school? Your daughter finished her homework last night, but then forgot to turn it in. Your son can't sit still long enough to watch a TV show, much less a morning's worth of school work. You know they'd do better if they'd only pay attention or sit still. Many parents find themselves getting frustrated and angry at what seems like willful misbehavior.

"The reality is that most kids want to do well," says Liz Ferron, senior consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "While it's not obvious to their parents, children who can't pay attention or behave as well as friends the same age are often frustrated and disappointed with themselves, too. They know they're not keeping up and, over time, many stop trying."

While all children are inattentive or hyperactive on occasion, a child who consistently can't sit still or pay attention could be suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or ADHD.

What is ADHD?

According to the National Institutes of Health, ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders, affecting nearly three to five percent of children between the ages of 3 and 17.

Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity). There are three types of ADHD:

  • Predominantly Inattentive ADHD: Symptoms include distractibility, excessive daydreaming, difficulty paying attention, inattention to detail, organizational problems, difficulty processing information quickly and accurately, difficulty following instructions (also referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD).
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD: Symptoms include excessive fidgeting, excessive or non-stop talking, interrupting others, impatience and impulsive behavior.
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive and Inattentive ADHD: Symptoms are a mixture of both Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyperactive-Impulsive Disorder.

Given the difficulty parents and teachers may have in dealing with hyperactive or impulsive behaviors, children with hyperactive-impulsive types of ADHD are more apt to be diagnosed and treated than children who suffer from attention deficit alone.

"At first glance, kids with predominately inattentive ADHD may appear to be lazy or undisciplined and it's natural for parents to encourage them to 'try harder,'" notes Ferron. "It's a lot like telling kids with polio to get up and walk. Without help, neither condition is likely to improve on its own."

Causes and Treatments for ADHD

According to the National Institutes of Health, scientists are not sure what causes ADHD, although many studies suggest that genetics play a large role—for example, does either side of the family have a relative who faced similar struggles? Like many other illnesses, ADHD may result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors such as nutrition, brain injuries or social environment.

While ADHD can't be "cured," the symptoms can be treated. In many cases, stimulant medication is prescribed in combination with coaching and counseling. Parents and doctors need to work together to decide which medication is best, if the young person needs medication only for school hours or also for evenings and weekends.

In addition, families need to consider what types of individual and family counseling could help the child, as well as his or her parents and siblings, cope with the symptoms of ADHD.

"Parents often feel a sense of failure or disbelief when a child's inattentiveness or hyperactive can't be cured by discipline, patience, rewards or punishment," says Ferron. "Siblings are often resentful of the extra time, attention and rewards given to the child with ADHD."

We Can Help

VITAL WorkLife has consultants on staff who can help you assess whether it's time to test your child for ADHD—and what your treatment options are if your child is diagnosed with one of the three forms of ADHD.

Simply call 1.800.383.1908—any time of the day or night—for a free, confidential consultation. Our consultants can:

  • Help you assess your child's behavior in the context of his or her age and stage of development
  • Provide one-on-one counseling, by phone or in person, for you and your child
  • Refer you to resources for testing and/or treatment
  • Help you understand your child's rights to accommodations at school under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Refer you to appropriate support groups
  • Coach you on how to educate friends and family members about your child's condition

"Parents of kids with ADHD often receive unsolicited advice on how to discipline their kids," says Ferron. "A little coaching on how to explain ADHD can help you set behavioral and disciplinary expectations for times when your child is in the care of others."

Helpful Online Resources

Your EAP benefit also includes unlimited access to a wealth of web-based Work & Life Resources at the VITAL WorkLife website, including the following articles on ADHD:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder and Your Child
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Part 1—Definition and Symptoms
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Part 2—Causes and Diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Part 3—Treatment
  • Helping Children and Youth With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Systems of Care
  • Young Children and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Accessing these resources is easy. Simply follow these steps:

  1. To find these articles, go to, click on member login and enter your user name and password.
  2. On the page that comes up, in the left hand column, click on the "Your Work & Life Resources" button.
  3. In the shaded area at the top of the screen, click on the pull down menu that says "Parenting." In the middle of the page, click on the topic "Education."
  4. In the Categories box on the right side of the Personal Growth page, click on "ADHD."

Pathways to Well Being Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App. 

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