Why is my child so distractible?

Many children are highly distractible and struggle to maintain concentration in the classroom or when completing homework. You or their teacher may suspect that they are lazy or have a poor attitude. In most cases, I observe that most children are trying their hardest and their distractibility is caused by factors beyond their control. In some cases, their struggle to learn is prolonged in which case they may have become a discouraged learner.

Reasons why your child is Distractible

There are usually multiple reasons and the main factors that I see in children are:

  1. Unhelpful pattern of hearing
  2. Poor auditory processing
  3. Inadequate diet especially breakfast
  4. Digestive issues

Unhelpful Hearing

After testing nearly 2,000 children, I have observed that most distractible children tend to have a hearing pattern, which is over-sensitive to the lower frequencies and undersensitive to mid–higher frequencies. This means it is difficult to pay attention in a noisy classroom because background noises tend to be lower in pitch than speech.

Poor Auditory processing

Some children have Auditory Processing Disorder, which undermines their ability to make sense what they hear. They struggle to filter out background noises. They can struggle to detect or understand the meaning of pitch changes in speech. Poor pitch perception undermines learning and social comprehension. It can cause children to think you are angry when you are warning them or joking. Those with APD become easily overwhelmed in classrooms and tend to disrupt or withdraw. They may appear lazy because of their low attention and distractibility.

Unsuitable breakfast

When children eat a highly processed carbohydrate breakfast, they may be unable to sustain mental acuity by mid morning because high GI foods deliver all their energy very rapidly. Many parents don’t realise that these foods deliver energy too fast to be useful for a student. Such breakfasts include packaged cereals, sugar and white bread. Low GI breakfasts contain proteins and good fats release energy more slowly and are more likely to sustain energy until lunchtime. ie whole rolled oats, eggs, yoghurt, nuts, avocado, wholemeal toast and peanut butter.

Some children digest some foods poorly and cannot obtain enough energy from “good food” breakfasts to sustain them until lunch at school. In extreme cases this caused conditions like leaky gut. If you suspect this you should seek testing with your doctor or a naturopath.

Overlaps between distractibility, ADD and ADHD

Some 60% of struggling readers also meet the criteria for another disorder.  Some 15%-40% of kids with dyslexia are also diagnosed with ADHD, and 25%-40% with ADHD are also diagnosed with dyslexia.[1] But distractibility may not mean ADHD. Some highly distractible children are misdiagnosed as ADHD or ADD when in fact they have an Auditory Processing Disorder, or a digestive disorder. If a parent is a keen observer and is able to trust their intuition they are better equipped to identify where best to seek help to address their child’s distractibility. A good way the learn more about this is by taking our Listen Score Card [LINK to] which addresses these problems.

How you can help

  • Ensure your child is located away from distractions in the classroom and close to the teacher.
  • Use visual cues instead of pitch to deliver the meanings you wish to convey. By making eye contact and changing your expression, you can grab the attention of your distractible child.
  • If possible quieten the environment and use slower speech.

So if someone you know is highly distractible, this need not be a life sentence if you take action and try the tips above.

If you would like to take the next step with Harry Armytage, complete the listening scorecard here

  1. [1] Nancy Mather, Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention, Wiley, 2011

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash