Saturday, April 28, 2001

Alive and well

Other problems can mimic ADD symptoms

        No column of mine in recent months has elicited as much response from readers as the one on Attention Deficit Disorder, which appeared March 4.

        Reading about the relief of diagnosis and help from medication, I heard from a handful of recently diagnosed adults — grateful, at last, for the explanation for short attention spans, impulsivity, or dreaminess, and for the focusing ability gained through appropriate medication.

        Mostly, though, I heard from dozens of worried parents.

        Parents who called and wrote to me believed their children must have attention deficit or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder because they “can't sit still” or “can't pay attention in school.”

        Some fretted that teachers weren't taking their fears seriously enough. Still others were concerned about a child suspended or punished in school or about the kid in trouble whose teacher refuses to take ADD or ADHD into account when discussing the individualized education plan (IEP).

        Clearly, attention deficit disorder is a serious and popular diagnosis. The U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Health and the Americans with Disabilities Act categorize ADD and ADHD as disabilities. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that between 1.6 and 2 million Americans are affected.

        A proper diagnosis, however, is no quick fix for fidgety kids or inattentive students. While there are specific symptoms characterizing the disorder, there are also a number of other conditions causing similar behaviors. Learning disabilities such as dyslexia, for example, and visual tracking problems can be responsible for behaviors that might first appear to be attention deficit disorder.

        While a short attention span or difficulty concentrating on school work might be due to ADD or ADHD, these can also be reactions to undiscovered learning problems.

        Transposing numbers (12 for 21), reversing letters in writing (b for d or p for q), or reversing words when reading (was for saw, no for on) are common indicators of a possible learning problem.

        If a child is having difficulty reading from left to right or comprehending what has been read, the outward behaviors associated with ADD might well be the most visible signs that a problem exists.

Visual tracking
        Similarly, although a child or adult has perfect vision, visual tracking problems have often been initially misdiagnosed as ADD.

        Difficulty focusing on the printed page, moving from line to line without a finger to hold the place, or transferring attention from chalkboard to book can all be indicators of a problem with visual tracking.

        Finding out whether or not a child or adult has ADD or ADHD is not a simple process. If you suspect a problem, start with your pediatrician and/or school psychologist.

        Typically, at least six of the following nine symptoms are present before ADD is considered a possibility:

        • Making careless mistakes in schoolwork.

        • Difficulty sustaining attention to tasks.

        • Not listening to what is being said.

        • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities.

        • Losing and misplacing belongings.

        • Fidgeting and squirming in seat.

        • Talking excessively.

        • Interrupting or intruding on others.

        • Difficulty playing quietly.

        The pediatrician or school psychologist will have some preliminary evaluation tools, but chances are that before you have a definitive diagnosis, you'll be referred to another physician, psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in attention deficit disorder. Maybe you'll be referred to a learning disabilities specialist or optometrist.

        The important thing is to get it right, get whatever help is really needed, rather than rushing to the quick fix label or solution.

       Contact Deborah Kendrick at 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail: Cincinnati.Com keyword: Kendrick.


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