“He has problems paying attention in school and at home. He doesn’t finish his homework unless I am over him the whole time, and then he often forgets to turn it in. The teachers say he seems to be daydreaming a lot and he talks too much in class. I’m afraid that he is going to fail school!”
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a widely used term in to describe people who have problems paying attention. However, ADHD is a condition that includes more than just paying attention. The area of the brain that is affected by ADHD is responsible for everything from planning, organizing, prioritizing, judgment, and decision making, which are all problematic for the person who has ADHD.
Common complaints parents make about their children who may have ADHD are:
- Not listening and complaining of forgetfulness
- Problems starting and finishing tasks
- Taking a long time to complete a task
- Needing outside structure such as frequent prompting to stay on task
- Poor organization of materials and forgetting books and homework
- Lack of motivation to do chores or uninteresting tasks
- Not able to follow multi-step directions
- Over-talkativeness and excessive energy
- Irritability and argumentativeness
- Messy rooms
Parents may wonder if their teens are “lazy,” rebellious, disrespectful, or if they have a problem processing information. In general, most kids really want to do their best, and what may appear as laziness or apathy, may be frustration. Individuals with these issues often suffer from low self-esteem, because it seems that the harder they try, the less they get accomplished. Depression and anxiety often accompany ADHD and other learning problems, but can also mimic ADHD.
ADHD and learning disabilities cannot be diagnosed with a simple behavior checklist or a one hour interview with a psychologist or psychiatrist. ADHD in particular can mimic mood or behavioral disorders. Thorough testing has to be conducted to determine if the person really has ADHD, to what degree, and identify the areas of functioning that are affected. In addition, other learning disabilities, such as reading, math, or auditory processing problems, co-occur in 70% of the individuals who have ADHD. It is important to determine where the thinking process is inefficient so that the right course of treatment can be recommended. Stimulant medications are appropriate for individuals who truly have ADHD as they generally increase the ability to focus. However, they do not “fix” other issues in executive functioning, such as planning and decision making. Strategies often need to be learned to help the work round these other issues. Testing plays a key role in identifying a person’s strengths, as well as their weaknesses, so that they may learn skills in order to succeed in school and in life. If the problem is not ADHD, but anxiety or depression, different medications and treatment options would be recommended. In the case of other learning disorders, stimulant medications would not be useful, but tutoring and cognitive rehabilitation in areas of weakness can make a huge impact.
It is important to note that most insurances do not pay for learning disability testing, though they may pay for ADHD testing.
Testing is offered for teens 12 and older, including adults. If you or your teen has a learning problem, the information you would learn through testing would be invaluable to you. Even if your child has been tested in elementary school, their brains have developed more since then, especially if they received tutoring. For High School Seniors and college students, such testing is required in order to obtain assistance from college Learning Centers. On their website, The Georgia Board of Regents states what documentation is required for a college student to receive additional time for tests, tutoring, and other accommodations needed to optimize learning. Testing must be current, within 3 years.