5 Important Causes of Attention Deficit


Steven Michaëlis

(Article in the May 2009 issue of Genç Gelişim)

When considering the attention and concentration difficulties it is useful to observe what the child can do, rather than to immediately focus on what the child cannot do. Often the child can concentrate on a certain task under certain circumstances, but fails to do so in school or when required to do homework.

Many school aged children, especially young ones, find it difficult to pay attention and hold concentration. This will obviously limit their academic achievement and can also lead to lower self esteem and possibly behavioral, emotional and social difficulties. It is easy to attach the 'ADHD' label to children like this and prescribe medication. Certain medication can help in counteracting some of the symptoms of ADHD, but as yet they do not tackle or cure the underlying causes. Any non-invasive and drug-free alternatives to improve attention and concentration must therefore be worth further investigation. Fortunately there are well documented methods that have proven their worth with many millions of children throughout the world and I will summarize some of these in this short article.

It is important to separate the hyperactivity element from the attention difficulty. If children have a constant need to move, a key indicator of hyperactivity, then obviously attention will suffer too. But the vast majority of children have this only to a limited extend and should not be labeled as being hyperactive so readily. When considering the attention and concentration difficulties it is useful to observe what the child can do, rather than to immediately focus on what the child cannot do. Often the child can concentrate on a certain task under certain circumstances, but fails to do so in school or when required to do homework. This indicates that the child has the ability to pay attention, but gets distracted in some way or another. These distractions can be caused by a number of underlying conditions, such as retained childhood reflexes, over or under sensitivity of one or more of the senses or ineffective processing in the brain.

That childhood reflexes can have a great influence on how children develop and learn is still rarely acknowledged, but there is a great deal of evidence that reflexes that have not matured will impact on speech development, reading, writing, attention and concentration. For instance, if the baby grasp reflex fails to recede, than this will impact on the fine motor skills of the hand and often lead to poor writing skills.

Physical distraction and a need to twist and turn when sitting on a chair is often linked to the birth reflex that directs babies to twist during the birth process. This reflex is essential to ensure a baby is able to navigate the narrow birth canal, twisting the hips and shoulders to avoid getting stuck between the mother's hip bones. After birth there is no further use for this reflex and normally it recedes in the early months after birth. However, if it remains in sufficient intensity later on, it can cause a child to literally feel the need to twist and turn, affecting attention and concentration.

Almost all learning takes places through interaction with the senses and in particular by speech through the hearing and by visual interaction through the eyes. If these key senses do not operate effectively, then learning will be compromised and attention deficit or hyperactivity can often be experienced as a side-effect. Ineffective hearing or vision does not necessarily mean hearing loss or the need to wear glasses. In these children often the sensors (the ears and eyes) work sufficiently well, but how the signal from the ears and eyes is processed in the brain may cause difficulties. If the hearing is better than normal (hyper-sensitive hearing) than children often start to block-out these unpleasant or even painful sounds, leading to a lack of contact with the world around them.

It is also critical that the eyes work effectively together as a team, which requires well developed eye muscles, good coordination and balance, and the ability to focus the eyes both nearby and far away. If any of this fails then the signals from the two eyes received by the brain may not match up with each other, leading to confusion, delayed processing or even a distorted view. More effective visual processing often can overcome some of these obstacles.

An often forgotten element in learning is our sense of balance. It forms part of the inner-ear and plays an important role in our posture, in how we move, but also how we perceive the world around us and it plays a critical role in directing our eyes in follow a line of writing. The need to constantly move about is also often linked to an under-sensitive sense of balance.

So we see that there are a number of diverse reasons why children may be distracted from paying attention and concentrating on the task at hand. Fortunately it is possible to mature childhood reflexes and to retrain the brain to process sensory information more effectively. Simple exercises and non-invasive intervention techniques exists that can make the difference between failure and success at school and that lead to a happier and better adjusted child.

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