Focus/Attention Processing Dysfunction Characteristics

When a child is needing to use too much energy to attend to his/her work, then that is the area that is a learning block to him/her. This child often has a body chemistry that is upset, and can be changed with simple methods at home. Other times a parent finds that working with a professional in this area is most helpful.

Often a parent will say of such a child: “He/she can focus on movies, video games, or Legos for hours, but can’t focus on his/her schoolwork for more than five minutes.” It is important to realize what is going on, so we don’t become frustrated with this type of child. Movies, video games, or Legos require little energy because children find them interesting and undemanding. On the other hand, a history or math lesson requires much more effort on the child’s part. If the child has an “energy leak” in a certain area, then he/she will have to work much harder to remain focused. Therefore it is important to distinguish whether a child is struggling with an academic task because of an actual learning block, which causes task avoidance because of its difficulty, or a focusing problem.

Many times these children are struggling with sensory integration issues that make them look unfocused.

We’ll look at the characteristics of a child struggling with a focus issue, and a child struggling with sensory integration issues separately, even though they often overlap.

The official terms that are often used for children who have difficulty remaining focused on a task that they are capable of doing are Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

ADD refers to a child who is not acting out or moving around, and can even look attentive during a task, but is generally absorbed in his/her own thoughts and daydreams to the point that he/she gets little done in the amount of time allotted.

A child who is thought to be ADHD is generally hyperactive. This child has a motor that is always running that he/she seems incapable of controlling. He/she does everything in a hurry, and some part of his/her body always appears to be moving, which keeps him/her quite distracted.

The hyperactive child (not just hyper-fidgety), is usually easy to spot in a group. The inattentive child, on the other hand, is not easy to spot. This child just appears to be slow in finishing work, or in following directions. He or she may seem lazy or uncooperative.

In a home school setting we do not have to focus on labels or official diagnoses most of the time. We just need to see if the child we are working with exhibits enough symptoms to warrant further exploration on this topic. In home schooling we can focus on the solution, rather than a label. Since learning is all about energy output, we ask ourselves why a child has to expend more energy to remain focused on a task than his or her siblings. Once this question is answered, then the action becomes clear.

ADD Checklist

  • Distractibility.
  • No persistence with a task.
  • Inconsistency in performance from one day to another.
  • Excessive daydreaming during a school related task.
  • Needs to have mom next to him or her in order to finish work.
  • Forgetfulness (of previously learned material, daily plans, etc.).

ADHD Checklist

A child struggling with the more active form of a focusing issue will display some of these characteristics:

  • Excess motor activity (something is always moving).
  • Impulsiveness (acts without thinking much of the time).
  • Insatiability (never satisfied with an activity).
  • Poor response to discipline.
  • Moodiness.
  • Sleep disturbances (very restless sleeper).


The difficulty with determining if your child has a focusing issue is that parents often do not have a strong basis of comparison if they only have one other child at home who is home schooling. Thus, it is important to solicit information and observations from the other adults in the child’s life who works with him/her in both an academic and non-academic setting.

Remember, that to be a real focusing issue, the symptoms must present themselves in more than one setting. It is important to differentiate between a child whose main problem is focusing, from a child who is exhibiting task avoidance because of academic struggles. For example, if your child’s Sunday School teacher says that he or she listens attentively to lessons, and participates lively in the discussions that follow, but “gets silly” or doesn’t complete assigned worksheets, you can consider that this child has a learning glitch instead of a focusing problem. The child with difficulty focusing frequently does not attend to orally presented information enough to participate well in the ensuing discussion.

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