People suffering from ADHD have low levels of attention. I know that. So do you.
But what exactly do we mean by ‘attention’?
I, for one, wasn’t as sure about that. Did I know what it encompasses? I wondered if there were others who had similar questions. So I set out to find out and share what I found.
Attention has multiple manifestations
This thing called ‘attention’ has a few more layers to it than may be obvious at the first instance. Yes, it is the ability to concentrate on a single objective amidst multiple stimuli. But that isn’t all to it.
There is more than one single facet of attention. In order to gain a complete overview of attention, we need to look at all these manifestations of attention.
It is the ability to focus:
At any given time there are a gazillion things happening around you. The ability of your brain to hold on to the task at hand and shut out every thing else is the ability to focus.
While you are driving your car, there are tonnes of billboards which often distract you from the task at hand. The ability of your brain to not let your thought process stray from your car on to the road or to the vehicular movement around you is focus.
A child with ADHD may not be able to ‘listen’ in to what the teacher is saying in class. Her focus may be on a bird chirping in the trees outside, from which it may jump to her visit to the zoo where she has seen lots of birds, to the dress she wore that day.
She misses out on what is happening in class due to her lack of focus.
It is also the ability to sustain this focus:
This is the ability of the mind to hold on for a period of time while a task is being completed or even while doing other things.
While driving for long distances, you cannot afford to let your mind wander off. Should it wander you are able to recognize it and draw it back to your car and the road ahead.
Your ADHD child often finds it difficult to sit through an entire class in school. After a while, her mind does begin to wander off and stays away. She is unable to bring it back to the task at hand without external intervention.
After listening to her teacher for a few minutes, she may be reminded of something that happened at home. Her mind has drifted off. While answering an exam, she suddenly starts thinking of something else. Precious time is being lost.
This is the ability of being able to pay attention to more than one task at a given point of time.
All of us do this at various points of time, with different degrees of success. Cooking a meal typically involves multi-tasking, cutting and chopping while watching over something which is frying. A slip in focus could result in either burnt food or a cut in our finger.
Your ADHD child may not be able to eat food while watching TV or while reading a book. She will totally forget about the food.
This is ability of the brain to switch between tasks with efficiency and ease.
Answer the phone while you are in the midst of reading an article. Your ability to resume reading the article quickly after ending the phone call is another manifestation of attention.
An ADHD child doing her homework may get easily distracted by a phone call. She may totally forget about it and move on to doing something else (playing games on the phone, watching videos) after she finished talking on the phone.
How Deficit is Deficit?
All of us have had bouts of low concentration at various points of time. Attention, by its very nature, tends to be antsy. It flits from one thing to another across all human beings.
What qualifies as ADHD?
Then why is my daughter diagnosed as having ADHD while I am not?
The difference between a person suffering from ADHD and one who does not is the extent of impairment in the ability to concentrate on completing the task at hand.
If the inability to focus is significant enough to cause an impediment in completing routine tasks – studying, getting dressed by oneself, finishing meals within a stipulated time – then you need get your child checked for ADHD from a qualified professional.
Can Attention be enhanced?
How can attention be improved without the use of medication? That is really the key question.
Various types of practitioners of meditation, be it yogis, Buddhist monks or Chinese Zen gurus, have all been undivided in their claim that meditation increases focus and calms the mind.
Scientific studies have also shown that the attention spans of practitioners of meditation was exceptionally higher than that of people who do not meditate.
A Simple Technique to Practice Meditation
Meditation is often made out to be more complicated than it really is. The benefits of meditation can be obtained in as little as about 5 minutes of practice each day.
The aim is to be mindful and purposeful of our thoughts at any given point of time.
The first stage is to relax your body and mind.
There are various techniques for relaxation – listening to music, having a massage etc.
Deep breathing is extremely effective, can be done anytime, anywhere and does not require any external support. It is my favourite way to relax.
All you need to do is to breathe in slowly and gently, hold your breath for a second or two and then gradually release. Do not rush through any part of this cycle or force it.
Start by sitting in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, draw your focus to your breath and then begin the breathing cycle. Repeat this process a few times.
When an ADHD child is doing breathing , it is helpful for an adult to verbally guide him along. Use a calm, gentle and relaxed voice.
The second stage requires becoming aware of your thoughts.
At this stage we are not controlling our thought process in any way. What we are doing is raising our levels of internal awareness. Let your thoughts come and go as they do. Pay attention to each one of them. Know what your mind is thinking about.
If your attention jumps from one topic to another, it is fine.
At the same time, we may also experience certain emotions. Be aware of your emotional reactions too. Did your thought make you worried? Sad? Happy? Excited?
The third stage is to increase your focus span.
We move to this stage only after we are comfortable with being mindful.
It is now that we start to build our focus. We do this by concentrating our mind on a single object, a single thought or even our breathing.
Our mind will wander. However, we have to be aware of when it does and bring it back as soon as we realise it. Over time, this jumping of our attention should decrease.
Do try this out with your child.
A few tips to help you along the way.
- Do it alongside them to increase their willingness to sit in one place.
- Start small for your child with ADHD, a couple of minutes a day, 2-3 times a week. Build it up from there.
- Take a break if your child is feeling restless. Do not force it on your child.
In summary, attention has many facets to it. Our minds tend to wander from one thought to another. However, in an ADHD child, it hampers their ability to get seemingly routine tasks done within a reasonable period of time.
Meditation is a proven technique to help improve focus. Gradually introduce your child to its various stages.
How significant is the lack of attention in your child? Do you practice meditation or any other techniques of mindfulness? Would love to hear from you.