8 Overlooked Issues That Could Be Causing Your Child’s Attention Problems

Hyperactivity, lack of attention, and/or impulsivity are commonly associated with ADHD in kids, but there are many other causes of those symptoms. It’s important to look at the full picture, which means having a solid understanding of what ADHD really looks like and what other issues could be causing a child’s attention problems.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”  There are three subtypes of ADHD, and depending on how a child presents, their behavior may look drastically different than others with an ADHD diagnosis:

  • ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type (commonly called ADD): Kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type are easily distracted and have difficulty paying attention, but don’t struggle with impulsivity or hyperactivity. They typically aren’t disruptive in class, and often come across as shy. They typically don’t run into behavior issues caused by their ADHD, but their inattention is a problem.

  • ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type: Children with ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type are always on the move and struggle with impulse control regularly. They have a hard time sitting still in class, talk non-stop, blurting out comments and interrupting conversations or class time. These kids typically don’t share the same attention struggles as those with ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type.

  • ADHD, Combined Type: Kids with this type of ADHD struggle with both hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention. They meet the criteria for both of the other ADHD diagnoses.

Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are three common behaviors associated with ADHD, but a comprehensive evaluation is necessary for diagnosis. All kids struggle with focus, impulse control, and energy levels at times, but for kids with ADHD, these behaviors are more severe and more frequent. They interfere with the quality of the child’s life and are long-lasting.


If your child is displaying some of the signs, or only displays symptoms in some situations, you may just be facing typical childhood behavior, or you may be noticing the signs of something else. Certain medical conditions can cause very similar symptoms to ADHD, and it’s important that you see a professional to receive an evaluation for your child. The following conditions can cause symptoms that look like ADHD:

  • Sleep Deprivation: If a child isn’t getting enough sleep, they will have a harder time concentrating, remembering things, controlling their emotions and impulses, and show signs of hyperactivity.

  • Stress and Anxiety: Excessive stress or anxiety in a child’s life can cause physical and behavioral challenges, including emotional outbursts, impulse control issues, and lack of focus. They can appear disengaged if they’re preoccupied with other worries.

  • Vision and Hearing Problems: If a child can’t see or hear well, their behavior, attention, and impulse control can be affected (especially in a classroom setting).

  • Auditory Processing Disorder: Children with auditory processing disorder can hear normally, but struggle to make sense of sounds. There is a breakdown between the ears and the brain that can affect the child’s ability to listen, understand, and remember what they’re hearing. It can be hard for them to follow spoken instructions and stay focused.

  • Sensory Processing Disorder: When a child’s body receives sensory information from the outside world in an unorganized way, their responses can cause major behavioral challenges. They may refuse to engage with others, have difficulty following instructions and controlling their impulses, or appear hyperactive.

  • Blood Sugar Imbalances: When kids suffer from low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), they’ll often act irritable, have shorter attention spans, lack focus, and have low energy. If they are dealing with high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), they may have attention deficits, and trouble concentrating.

  • Thyroid Issues: When a child is producing too many (or too few) thyroid hormones, they will suffer from energy imbalances, mood swings, memory and concentration problems.

  • Anemia: As an iron deficiency develops, children will experience tiredness that can be mistaken for attention difficulties, and irritability that may present as a lack of impulse control.

A child that can’t sit still, has difficulty following instructions, or loses homework and toys often could be displaying signs and symptoms of ADHD. Or they could be struggling with something else entirely. The most important steps you can take if you feel your child may be struggling is to talk to a professional you trust. Be sure to observe your child and take notes, talk to your child’s teacher and find out what’s happening at school, and share your notes with your child’s doctor. Ask about a referral to a specialist who can diagnose or rule out ADHD with a comprehensive evaluation.

© 2020 by Scientific Learning

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Oakland, CA 94612-2943



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