Why is My Child Inattentive?
Raising a child is a unique experience, as no two children (even twins) are going to act, or react, in exactly the same way. Today’s environment, including shrinking attention spans and technology additions, can add to the challenges parents can have when trying to keep a child attentive during crucial educational years. So how do you know when something isn’t “right”? Beyond the parental “gut feeling,” having an understanding of what might be contributing to inattentive behavior can help parents create an action plan suited to each child’s needs.
Could it be ADHD?
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that can present as “inattentive,” “hyperactive-impulsive,” or a combination of both. Although most people’s stereotype of ADHD is that of a hyperactive child who can’t sit still and has enough energy to tire everyone else out, inattentive ADHD is less commonly recognized. Inattentive ADHD can be exhibited as a child “zoning out” or seeming dazed and confused. These symptoms result in children having trouble listening, keeping track of their belongings, and forgetting to do daily chores1. These symptoms, however, can mimic those of absence seizures.
What are Absence Seizures?
Absence seizures are not your typical fall to the ground, jerking seizures. Instead, these types of seizures present themselves as staring spells, where a child will suddenly stop what they are doing and stare off into space for a few seconds2. These spells can be so quick that it is barely noticeable, but they can significantly affect a child’s ability to concentrate and learn. If your child is having absence seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy, and treatment of the seizures should be a priority.
Are ADHD and Epilepsy Related?
While the origin of both disorders stem from the brain, ADHD and epilepsy are not directly related. However, studies do show that children with epilepsy are 30-40% more likely to have ADHD in addition to their specific epilepsy disorder1. When a child is only experiencing absence seizures, it is harder to distinguish from ADHD as symptoms can be very similar, thus making a timely diagnosis difficult. To properly diagnosis your child, you can talk with your pediatrician about seeing a specialist who will run tests such as video EEG (VEEG). AVEEG will capture both the EEG recordings of your child’s brainwaves and video of what they are physically doing during one of these episodes to differentiate between the two disorders. From there, a child neurologist can help make a treatment plan that is best for your child.
What Else Could it Be?
Sleep disorders like sleep apnea can mimic ADHD symptoms due to your child losing much needed sleep. Excessive tiredness, forgetfulness, not being able to focus, and throwing temper tantrums can all result from the brain not receiving enough rest and oxygen at night. One telltale sign of disrupted sleep, snoring, may or may not be present. To complicate things, children with ADHD have a high chance of suffering from sleep issues and the lack of rest can cause ADHD symptoms to get worse.3 Talk to your child’s physician about performing a sleep test to differentiate between ADHD and sleep apnea. If you child has both, you may need to discuss with your pediatrician how best to manage the timing of ADHD medication, specifically stimulants, so that your child can get adequate sleep.
There are also many types of hearing loss as well as disorders such as autism and other learning disabilities that may mimic the symptoms of ADHD and absence seizures. If epilepsy, ADHD, and sleep apnea are ruled out, talk to your child’s primary care doctor about available tests for hearing loss, as well as other developmental disorders. When in doubt, trust that parental gut and advocate for your child, insisting on proper testing for an accurate diagnosis and getting the needed help for what your child is experiencing.
- Epilepsy Foundation [Internet]. 2018 June [cited 2021 Dec 7]; Available from: https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/challenges-epilepsy/moods-and-behavior/mood-and-behavior-101/epilepsy-and-adhd
- John Hopkins Medicine [Internet]. 2018 June [cited 2021 Dec 7]; Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/epilepsy/absence-seizures
- Child Mind Institute [Internet]. [cited 2021 Dec 16]; Available from: https://childmind.org/article/adhd-sleep-disorders-misdiagnosed/