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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do you tell the difference between a child with ADD and a child who is unmotivated to learn?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Serving the interests of children and young people with childhood language and related disorders View Profile

    Many factors can contribute to a child having difficulty attending and participating in class. Pinpointing what is affecting your child is very much a process of elimination. It is important to have documented observations in a number of environments (home/school/vacation care etc) to see if there are patterns in behaviour and if the concerning behaviour occurs across environments (which is a diagnostic factor for ADD/ADHD). Cognitive deficits, speech and language disorders, learning disorders and behavioural disorders can all impact on a child's ability to engage and learn in the classroom. Often you need to eliminate these causes to determine if the child has ADD/ADHD. Behaviour modification (such as reward systems) are often a starting point as well as assessment of a child's cognition and language skills. If there is continued concern the best action is to consult your GP and/or paediatrician.

  • Family Therapy is my passion, I worked at Redbank House for 10 years, working intensely with families, primarily with children with behaviour difficulties. Then and … View Profile

    ADD is really about the ability of a child to concentrate. You can usually tell quite quickly if a child is having difficulty concentrating - they are unable to sit and look at their work, their eyes dash all over the room and they have trouble following commands, even simple commands.

    A child who is unmotivated to learn is more likely to be sitting in a slump, being somewhat avoidant so their presentation is quite different.

  • Dr Tim Edwards-Hart

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Dr Tim Edwards-Hart is a clinical psychologist working with adults, young adults and adolescents (age 15+). He has expertise assessing and managing ADHD, anxiety, and … View Profile

    It can be quite difficult to distinguish between different causes of poor motivation. The key is to identify what the lack of motivation applies to, and for how long it has applied. For example, if a child has recently lost motivation for a particular subject then it might be something about that class (perhaps even the teacher). If the lack of motivation is recent, but with school overall, then perhaps there is an issue with bullying or the child may be feeling anxious or depressed. On the other hand, if the apathy towards school is long standing, but only for subjects that call on a particular skill (e.g. reading) then a learning disorder might be contributing.
    In contrast, ADHD tends to be both widespread (across settings, not just at school) and long term (over many years). Unlike a learning disorder, where lack of motivation can be related to a specific skill set, ADHD motivation can be linked to content. For example, an ADHD child can be highly motivated for topics that interest them, but unable to even start if they topic is “boring”. Kids with ADHD also tend to be chronic procrastinators, especially with tasks that have a long lead time or are perceived as difficult. While this can be an issue for any child, it is especially pronounced for those with ADHD.
    Remember also that not all children with ADHD have the hyperactive behaviours (the “H” in ADHD) and these children sometimes look like they are bored or “vague-ing out”, or can come across as if they don't care. Although this is how they can appear, they often do care, but can struggle to maintain focus on the things they need to.
    As you can see, there are many factors to consider. However, if lack of motivation has extended beyond a couple of weeks, or is beginning to cause difficulty, it is worth speaking with someone about it.

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