Attention Deficit is a Brain Disorder

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is not willful disobedience, deliberate defiance or careless behavior on the part of a child. ADD is not caused due to food allergies, sugar reaction, or a lack of vitamins and minerals. ADD is not due to the immaturity of the central nervous system or insufficient supply of blood glucose to the certain parts of the brain. Current research shows that ADD is a disorder of the brain.

Russell Barkley, a leading researcher in the field and the chief architect of this theory calls it a "developmental disorder of self-control." The developmental disorder has a biological basis. An indeterminate number of defective genes may contribute to unsatisfactory brain development resulting in ADD. Certain parts of the brain that give human beings the power of controlling and regulating their behavior are found to be smaller and inadequately developed in some ADD children.

About 50% of ADD children may overcome most of their impairment during adulthood, but others will continue to experience significant problems at work, and in their personal and social lives. Children with a milder deficit are more likely to outgrow it during adulthood. Children with severe attention deficit, especially when accompanied by severe hyperactivity and impulsive behavior, are more likely to experience difficulties throughout their adulthood.

It is helpful to conceptualize ADD as a developmental disorder, but, as Barkley cautions us,.we should not confuse it with developmental delay or developmental lag. An example may be in order here. A child who does not learn to walk by 15 months of age is considered as demonstrating a "developmental delay" or "lag." He or she is lagging behind other children in regards to walking. Let’s suppose, the child starts walking at 18 months of age. The developmental gap is now bridged. The child has "caught up" with other children.

Since the developmental age for learning to walk is 15 months, children who start walking earlier are considered ahead, and those who haven’t are considered behind in the developmental task of walking. How did psychologists come up with the age of 15 months as the developmental age for walking? That is determined by the rule of 75%. Seventy-five percent of children start walking by age 15 months, therefore, the developmental age for walking is determined to be 15 months.

It is not possible to determine a developmental age in this fashion for the ability to pay attention. However, it is useful to look at attention and concentration in the same way as we look the intellectual ability. Just as one may ask, "What is your I.Q.?" one may ask, "What is you’re A.Q.?" A.Q., as you might have guessed, stands for "Attention Quotient." Incidentally, there is no such thing as an A.Q. I just made it up to explain the concept. So don’t start looking for a test to measure your A.Q, at least not yet.

To continue with the example, just as some people have a high I.Q. or a low I.Q, some have a high A. Q. or a low A.Q. Just as persons with a low I. Q can get by in performing most of their daily life tasks, those with a low A.Q can also get by in performing tasks that do not require a great deal of attention and concentration.

The problem becomes acute only when one has a very low I.Q or a very low A. Q. Many ordinary everyday tasks may then present insurmountable difficulties. The person may simply be unable to do them, and it would be unrealistic for others to expect satisfactory performance from him or her. Therefore, we should look at attention quotient in the same way we look at intelligence quotient. However, the similarity between the I.Q. and the A.Q ends there. There are significant differences between the two concepts.

A person with mental retardation cannot demonstrate a dramatic rise in intelligence simply because he or she finds the task extremely fascinating, novel or engaging, but a person with "attention retardation" can demonstrate superior attention. An ADD child may pour his or her attention over a new and exciting game or puzzle for a prolonged time. Parents and teachers then expect the child to "make an effort" and do better, but the child can’t. The fact is that the child doesn’t have the will power and control over his or her attention. As the novelty wears off, the object is unable to draw the child’s interest or attention.

Another major difference between I.Q and A.Q is that there is no medication that can significantly increase a child’s I.Q. But, there are several medications that can significantly improve a child’s attention for several hours at a time.

In summary, ADD is not caused by an underlying emotional disorder or poor parenting. It is a brain disorder in which genetics and prenatal complications may play a significant part. Long-term medication, family education, and school intervention can make a significant difference in how children cope with their deficit.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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