It’s not attention deficit, it’s impulse control

Back in the spring, after years of dietary interventions and ruling out other things that can look like ADD/ADHD and lots of struggling with what looked like a VERY bright but unmotivated kid, BigGuy had a huge battery of psychological testing done so we had a better clue of what he was capable of.  These included the Connor’s Test–which is supposed to be an objective way to determine whether a child has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  BigGuy’s results weren’t even borderline–he clearly did NOT have an attention disorder.

The psychologist that did all the testing was as surprised as we were given what he observed during the testing.  None the less, BigGuy was clearly able to focus when he needed to.  The psychologist said that BigGuy’s problem was actually impulse control.  All I could think of was “Isn’t it an attention problem if you can’t control your impulses?!?!?”

I think I was so frustrated by this that I just wasn’t processing.  WHAT???

WHAT?????

But today, as we were driving in the car, I found a way to explain it to him (and to you).  So I’m gonna.

BigGuy has a NASTY habit of trying to do two things at the same time.  And if he’s even ABLE to pull this off, neither of the tasks is done well.

Today, it was about reading the Nook AND trying to listen to the Narnia series on CD on our hour car ride home.  It made me bat-sh*t insane when I realized what he was doing.  So we had a mom-gritting-her-teeth-so-she-wasn’t-hostile-but-could-not-contain-her-sarcasm chat where I explained this concept to him.  It went like this:

Me: “Buddy, when you try to read a book AND listen to what I’m telling you, do you notice that you’re not really able to catch all of what I’m telling you?”
BG: “Yes”
Me: “So, here’s what’s happening: you’re trying to make your brain do two things at once; and the fact that you are able to do this at all is because your brain is very intelligent because really–most people cannot do this.  That being said, let me ask you this: how well are you able to listen to me?”
BG: “Not very well.”
Me: “No.  Not very well at all.  In fact, I’d say that you did it as well as an idiot.  Which means that you’re doing two different things at the level of an idiot.  Are you an idiot?” (give me grace, reader… it was so NOT my best day)
BG: “No.”
Me: “Do you want other people to think you’re an idiot?”
BG: “No.”
Me: “Do you realize that you are TEACHING your brain not to focus?”
BG: “Hunh?”
Me: “Well, you are regularly setting up situations that force your brain not to focus.  You USUALLY want the radio on while you read.  So you’re pretty much teaching your brain not to focus because you’re making it try to read and listen to the radio at the same time.”
BG: (totally considering this)
Me:  “So you are building a HABIT of not paying attention.  But if you would make your brain only do one thing at a time, you would teach it to focus on one thing.  Focusing your attention on one thing would become a HABIT.  It would be kind of uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it would happen.”
BG: (totally taken and paying attention at this point)
Me: “So let’s say the radio is on and you’re going to read and we can’t turn the radio off because your sister is listening to it.  You’d have to excuse yourself to another room and go read there so you could allow your brain to focus on the reading.”
BG:  “Hunh.  Okay…”

At that point, I’m silently and simultaneously trying to forgive myself for using the word “idiot” in the conversation–more than once–and congratulating myself on getting it through to BigGuy that he needs to build habits of focus.

Because clearly, the difference between having an attention deficit disorder and impulse control issues is that in the former, you are unable to impose control on your actions and the later–you ARE capable of controlling your actions, but you need to learn TO impose control on your actions.

I’m sure much of that lack of learning is partially due to BigGuy’s developmental history and what everyone (including we parents) thought he was capable of at the time.  It wasn’t always clear when he progressed to the point of capability in one area or another.  He wasn’t exactly in a situation where ANYone thought he would progress as he did.  So our beliefs were reasonable for his condition and development at the time.  But I remember when we had this issue with his behavior–around age 4.  There were things we couldn’t really impose on him if he was incapable of controlling the problem, right?  I mean, I think Husbeau and I probably expected more of him than the specialists all thought was reasonable (which is/was a major reason we homeschool).  But even we were not always aware of how far he had come–and therefore that he was getting away with behaviors he COULD actually control and therefore SHOULD be reprimanded for.

It’s no different with this.

But hopefully it will be different now.  Because BigGuy understands.  And usually with my guy, that can make a difference.  He’s fighting some well-established unconscious habits, but we’ll work on it!

His IQ was also found to be exceptionally high and his Rorschach test results were over the top.  His lack of motivation was determined to be a lack of challenge.  BigGuy processes things at the speed of light and that certainly contributes to the challenges.  And therein lay the basis for the discussions with him last spring that drove so much change (and the creation of this blog 😉 )

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