Remote learning has brought out the best and worst in many of us this past year – I can’t focus in this house. Where’s the mute button! – as parents became teachers and kids became virtual students. At the start, there were some tears and frustration as everyone adjusted but now, a year later, some kids – even typically strong academic performers – are still displaying inattention, boredom and frustration. As kids transition back to in-class learning, parents wonder if these behaviors will go away or if they are signs of an underlying condition such as ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
The concern parents have about ADHD is real and growing. In fact, according to an NBC News article, the number of parents calling a help line set up by CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), a nonprofit that supports people with ADHD, rose by 62 percent since the pandemic started and traffic to its website last year grew by 77 percent compared to 2019.
Daniel Smith, MD, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital, has noticed an increase in mental health concerns among children and teens this past year, but cautions that ADHD isn’t a diagnosis based on just one or two behaviors.
“A main characteristic of ADHD is inattention, but other conditions such as anxiety and learning or intellectual disabilities can also cause inattention,” said Dr. Smith. “Other factors including the child’s age, cognitive and behavioral development, and other co-existing conditions are also important in understanding why a child may be displaying certain behaviors.”
Dr. Smith defines inattention as the lack of ability to sustain attention and focus for a period of time necessary to complete the task at hand and can present in different ways:
- Getting distracted by external environmental stimuli
- Daydreaming or thinking about something other than the task at hand
- Rushing through the task at hand and making careless mistakes
- Needing frequent and repeated external prompting and reminders to start, stay on and complete tasks
Boredom, on the other hand, is more just losing interest in something, not a difficulty maintaining focus and attention. All kids get bored but, for children with ADHD, they may lose attention and become bored more quickly and easily.
“The other piece of an ADHD diagnosis is displaying hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors such as fidgeting and inability to sit still and wait your turn,” said Dr. Smith. “With parents acting as teachers during remote learning, these types of behaviors may be easier to notice or may have become worse as children spend more of their time inside.”
If parents notice a pattern of behavior or struggles that get harder and more frequent, they should seek out their primary care provider for guidance. Dr. Smith also encourages parents to ask teachers if they’re noticing ADHD symptoms in their child and to make their own notes of why they’re concerned. Some questions worth answering include: What symptoms or behaviors are concerning? When do these symptoms present during the day? What seems to bring them about?
With or without an ADHD diagnosis, there are ways parents can support their child who may be struggling. The Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Akron Children’s has an Executive Function Skills Building Program, where children and parents can learn practical ways to improve skills related to memory, planning, organization, emotional regulation and time management.