What Causes ADHD? Sometimes it is Simple

What Causes ADHD

What Causes ADHDWhat Causes ADHD: Sometimes it is Simple


ADHD sounds scary but is an extremely common diagnosis. It is generally given when a person is unable to focus attention. In the past 15 years this diagnosis has been given to children more than any other mental health diagnosis.

What causes ADHD?

There are a lot of debates but let’s focus on often overlooked causes of inattention that can sometimes appear as ADHD. If you are a counselor or the parent of a child make sure to consider these causes before giving or accepting a diagnosis of ADHD.

  • Lack of Sleep: Is the child getting enough sleep? Lack of sleep over time can look like ADHD. Getting kids in the bedroom at a certain time does not mean that they are actually sleeping. Does your child have a TV in his room? With social media it is more possible than ever for kids to be distracted from sleep, and lack of sleep can look like an inability to focus.
  • Sugary Food: Is the child eating sugary breakfast? A child’s body is much smaller than an adult’s and is affected by food at a faster rate. A large bowl of sugary cereal in the morning spikes the body and can make it difficult to pay attention. Sugar does not offer much nutritional value and does not provide long term energy, both of which can lead to crashes later in the day making focusing difficult.
  • Glasses: When was the last time your child had her eyes checked? Kids who can’t see well will often get bored in school and this leads to distraction. It may seem like an overly simple solution but kids do not always know that they can’t see well and they assume that others can’t either. Sometimes children will think of themselves as dumb when in fact they just can’t see well enough to keep up with the class.
  • Family Stress and Change: Kids can be incredibly sensitive to family changes and stress. Moved lately? Are you in a poor job? Is there stress and anxiety in the family? All of these things can affect a child’s ability to concentrate in school. In these cases it is normal for the child to be distracted. For more, read this post on how a family problem can sometimes look like an individual problem.
  • Relationship Stress: Kids are no different than adults when it comes to relationship conflict and distraction. A child who does not feel safe in school or who is in conflict with others will find it hard to concentrate. Assess to determine social causes of distraction and seek to provide relief by changing the environment or bettering relationships.
  • Medications: Medications can seriously impair concentration. Always consider the medications the child is taking to determine the side effects, the dosage, and whether a mix of medications could be causing the problem. Also ask about when and how often the medication is being taken. Medication that is being given sporadically can play havoc on attention.

The list above explains simple but often overlooked causes of symptoms that can look like ADHD.

Always consider and assess for these environmental factors first before assuming that there is an issue of ADHD. Changing the environment can sometimes be a better solution than medication.


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J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

Chris holds a PhD and LCSW specializing in clinical individual and family therapy. He is a researcher, educator, practitioner, and supervisor with over 16 years experience. He has published chapters and articles in peer reviewed scientific journals and is an active scholar on the effectiveness of clinical practice.

July 15, 2014


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