ADHD is defined as a chronic condition that consists of a combination of persistent problems such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  A typical evaluation for ADHD includes a questionnaire for the teacher and a questionnaire for the parents. The questions are centered around observations of sustained attention, hyperactive behavior, and impulsivity.  Checking enough of the boxes can lead to a diagnosis of ADHD.  Today, ADHD is diagnosed as one of 3 ways: ADHD, Primarily Inattentive(or what used to be “ADD”), ADHD, hyperactive/impulsive, or ADHD, Combined type. At some point over the past several years, the powers that be decided to eliminate the term ADD and instead, now the diagnosis is only ADHD with one of the 3 qualifiers.


Here is the problem with just using a survey…..there are other reasons, besides ADHD, for kids to exhibit some of these behaviors.  The most common misdiagnosis in the ADHD family is ADHD, primarily inattentive.  These are the kids that are the “daydreamers”. They don’t appear to be listening and often need directions repeated. They don’t ever seem to really know what is going on but they are not behavior problems.

So, what if it is not ADHD? What else could it be?


Auditory Processing Disorder – This is where the child’s brain struggles to interpret what he/she hears.  The National Coalition of Auditory Processing Disorders says that common symptoms of an APD include:

  • Mishearing/discrimination problems
  • Problems following directions
  • Problems attending to oral messages
  • Distracted by background noises
  • Poor organization of verbal material
  • Oral and written expression problems
  • Problems remembering what they hear
  • Problems learning to read


Every single one of these symptoms could be blamed on attention.


Visual Processing Disorder – This is similar to an APD but now we are talking about the communication between the eyes and the brain.  This has nothing to do with acuity or how clearly a student can see.  Students with visual processing issue have problems with the way they interpret information, but what others will notice in these students is the behavior that happens after the difficulties occur.  Common symptoms include:

  • Misunderstanding or confusing written symbols (like b/d, +/-.x)
  • Easily distracted, especially by competing visual information
  • Difficulty writing within the margins or lines or aligning numbers in math problems
  • Difficulty judging distances (bumping into things, putting objects too close to the edge)
  • Fluidity of movement (clumsy)
  • Difficulty differentiating colors or similarly shaped letters and numbers (b/d, p/q, 6/9)
  • Difficulty copying information from the board
  • Reading fluently
  • Getting information from charts/graphs
  • Remembering directions to a location


Again, all of these symptoms could be easily blamed on weak attention and focus.


Receptive Language Disorder – Receptive language is the ability to listen and understand communication.  Students with a receptive language disorder have trouble making sense of spoken or written language.  Some common symptoms of a receptive language disorder include:

  • Difficulty following directions
  • Poor listening skills or comprehension
  • Confusion when confronted with complex or long sentences
  • Difficulty with abstract language
  • Difficulty responding to questions
  • Needing additional time to process information
  • Problems differentiating between different letter sounds