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ADHD Inattentive Type in Tweens Part I: Diagnosis

Typical tween disorganization, or something more?

ADHD inattentive type often goes undetected until middle school

ADHD inattentive type often goes undetected until middle school

Tweens entering middle school are typically expected to make a smooth transition from the encapsulated environment of elementary school to the less structured mayhem of middle school. A chief task in middle school is negotiating a less structured setting in which tweens are required to utilize organization and fore planning to keep pace. The majority of tweens get used to their new situation shortly after they make the initial transition.

Tweens for whom organization is far from easy or for whom planning let alone pre-planning seems nearly impossible often have much difficulty making this adjustment. With parental support and guidance however, many of these tweens eventually get adjusted.

There is a subset of tweens who may present as unable to get organized or remain focused. They often fall behind quickly in their classes because they are unable to meet deadlines and/or fail to complete assignments. Parents of these tweens sometimes assume their child is lazy or uninterested. This is particularly baffling for parents when their child seemed to excel in elementary school. A quick look at such a tween’s notebook often reveals completed homework assignments that have never been turned in; notes for science in the English section; and a worksheet for math crumpled up in a ball at the bottom of his backpack.

These tweens quite often function well in other realms. They may be socially savvy and quite involved in interests outside academics such as athletics or the arts. Quite commonly, these tweens are simply written off as requiring more discipline and focus on school.

Survey the majority of these tweens however, and you are sure to hear tales of frustration even fury. They try to keep order, they want to stay focused, their efforts simply seem futile.

Research indicates that it is becoming more common to identify kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), inattentive type during the middle school years. While ADHD is more predominant in boys, the inattentive type (aka without hyperactivity-impulsivity) is more common in the subset of girls diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD inattentive type is also trickier to detect which is why it often goes undiagnosed until middle school. Tweens diagnosed with ADHD inattentive type have difficulty remaining focused, they are often not detected in elementary school where the tendency is to focus on each classroom task for short periods time. It is not until these kids have to stay focused and concentrate on one subject for whole periods that difficulty can be detected. In addition, these kids do not often have the social issues associated with children who have ADHD with the hyperactive or impulsive symptoms. These kids are sometimes characterized as ‘spacey’ by their peers, they are however, rarely perceived as annoying or less likeable the way kids with AHDH symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are sometimes experienced.

Tweens diagnosed with ADHD inattentive type are not just affected in the academic realm. They often have difficulty remaining organized and focused in other areas of life as well. Their rooms are usually messy and disorganized. It is not uncommon to hear a parent of such a tween complain that her child never puts anything away and has a tendency to start projects that never seem to get completed.

Your tween may meet criteria for ADHD inattentive type if you check off six or more of the following:

  • Lacks attention to detail especially when completing schoolwork or when doing other activities. Has a tendency to make careless mistakes.
  • Reports or is observed having difficulty remaining focused in the classroom or while engaging in activities which require concentration such as chores or games.
  • Has difficulty listening when spoken to.
  • Fails to complete school assignments, chores, or other assigned tasks.
  • Avoids situations that require maintaining focus for long periods of time especially in class or while completing homework or other activities that require sustained mental focus.
  • Has difficulty following directions.
  • Has difficulty getting or remaining organized.
  • Has a tendency to lose things regardless of an item’s importance.
  • Easily distracted by outside stimuli
  • Generally forgetful.

The key factor in determining if your tween meets criteria for ADHD inattentive type is whether these characteristics impede her ability to function on a daily basis.

What you do and how you approach the situation is dependent on the challenges faced by your tween.

If you suspect that your tween meets criteria, consulting with a professional will confirm your conclusions. In addition, a professional will help you and your tween appropriately address accompanying symptoms. For tips on how you can work with your tween to develop tools and tactics to address disorganization and an inability to remain focused, refer to Part II of this article series.

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