ADHD and Focus​

As part of my series on executive function, I'd like to address something that can puzzle neurotypical people: the relationship between those with ADHD and their ability to focus.


For years, I've had parents come to me and say their student just doesn't try to focus. That their mind wanders and if they'd just learn to focus, they could get their homework done or pay attention in class.


This isn't true, however. As this article in ADDitude magazine shows, it's not that students with ADHD have a lack of focus, it's that they do not know how to control their focus. And there is a big difference there.


Students with ADHD have explained it to me like this: when they are in class, they don't just hear the teacher's voice. They also hear the sound of the heating vent, their neighbor's foot tapping, the video from the next classroom, and the sound of other students' keys on their keyboards. Their brain isn't able to put those other noises into the background as easily. Instead, it all blends together into a mix of sounds that make it challenging to focus on just one, namely the teacher's voice.


Mindfulness techniques can help here...if a student learns how to focus on their breath, as well as notice when their attention wanders, they can eventually learn how to bring themselves back into focus when they notice their attention has slipped.


At home, if a student is trying to do their homework and someone is cooking dinner, a sibling is playing a video game, and a parent is conducting a phone call, it will be hard to filter out all the extraneous noise to focus on math.


It can take some experimenting to find the optimal study space at home that will provide the right level of stimulation, but this is a good time of year to try different things. Some students enjoy background music while they study, and that doesn't always mean Mozart; upbeat, fast-paced electronic or rock music does the trick for some.


As the article mentioned above states, it is helpful to establish a routine around homework, assist students in getting started with their work (which often looks like reading through the instructions together and making sure the student understands the assignment), breaking down bigger tasks into smaller pieces, doing some supervising, and allowing frequent breaks.


Do not expect your child to do these things on her own, even in high school. Most students with ADHD need a good deal of support before they can do these things on their own, and will need repeated practice as well. Once it looks like they have some independence, back off the support, but don't take it away altogether. Gradually allow them more independence until it appears they can tackle assignments on their own confidently.


And always keep in mind that they are doing their best. Most students with ADHD are trying and are working with what they've got, so the best thing we can do as the adults in their lives is help them find the strategies and tools that will help them succeed.


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash