As many as one in 20 children in South Africa are believed to have ADHD - and their parents don’t know they have it. Picture: Flickr.com
As many as one in 20 children in South Africa are believed to have ADHD - and their parents don’t know they have it. Picture: Flickr.com

Signs to look for if you suspect your child has ADHD

By Zodidi Dano Time of article published Sep 23, 2021

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Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be a misdiagnosis when, in fact, the child is struggling with learning-related visual challenges, a University of the Free State study revealed.

The research, which focused on ADHD and visual and motor control difficulties in a study, the first of its kind, was led by UFS academic Dr Monique de Milander.

According to the findings, Grade 1 learners not only experience visual problems but also developmental coordination disorder.

De Milander said: “Visual problems are often overlooked and are seen as a hidden disability. Thus, children are labelled as ADD/ADHD, but in fact, they have learning-related visual problems. Our eyes connect the world with the brain, and we receive 80-90% of information from our eyes. Consequently, visual problems lead to poor vision, and these visual problems will interfere with children’s ability to learn in the classroom.”

The lead researcher said there was limited information on the association of ADHD symptoms with visual functioning difficulties in children.

Ocular alignment of the right eye was indicated as a problem – the ability of the two eyes to work together in order to view an object clearly. Therefore, the eyes must move in a coordinated manner.

Visual tracking is the skill that the children struggled with the most in both screening tests, thus, to follow a moving object. This was found for both eyes – the right eye on an X shape and the left eye on a circle.

De Milander adds that science suggests that although children at the age of five or six can perform a variety of manipulative skills such as catching, throwing, kicking, and hitting, the manipulative skills that require visual tracking or the ability to intercept moving objects, develop somewhat later (eight years) due to the sophisticated visual-motor requirements.

She said although maturation plays a role in achieving these skills, children need opportunities to practise the skills in a variety of settings. Parents and teachers should encourage children to take part in physical activities and sports, in addition to proper instruction on how to perform the manipulative skills.

How will these visual difficulties be identified?

Some examples of visual perception problems in a young child, as indicated by perceptual motor skills involving the eyes, are as follows:

  1. Using control to intercept a ball.
  2. Interchanging letters and numbers.
  3. Poor perception of moving objects.
  4. Poor figure-ground perceptual abilities.
  5. Distance perception.
  6. Anticipating timing.

What is the next step after identifying visual difficulties?

The first aspect to take into consideration is the age of the child since we now know that their perceptual abilities need to be refined. If the problem continues, screening tests can be done. If the child is at risk, it is recommended that the parent see an optometrist who specialises in visual problems.

How does one assist a child with ADHD in the classroom?

Five tips for teaching students with ADHD:

  1. Change activities frequently to accommodate a short attention span.
  2. Use a positive behaviour modification programme to keep student focused on task.
  3. Incorporate 3-5 minutes of conscious relaxation at the end of the physical education period.
  4. Give brief instructions.
  5. Use activities that promote cooperation among all students.

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