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Focus On Attention

Attention is easy ... focus, not so much!
Attention is easy … focus, not so much!

ADHD is an acronym for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. The name is a blanket term intended to collect a spectrum of symptoms under one heading. There are in fact two distinct main manifestations of ADHD, primarily inattentive and primarily hyperactive, with the third most common being a concatenation of the two.

In fairness, many of those who have the primarily hyperactive subtype do experience some increased symptoms of inattentiveness. However, one needs to have consistent negative repercussions from inattentiveness in order to be assigned the “primarily inattentive” or the “combined” subtype classification to their diagnosis.

The name, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, is a bit of a misnomer in that the first two words suggest that the person with ADHD has a deficit of attention. The common definition of deficit generally implies a shortfall in quantity. People with ADHD actually pay attention constantly with the deficit occurring at the level of control, not quantity.

A person with ADHD will pay attention to anything that attracts their attention, until something with a greater attraction comes along. That greater attraction could belong to movement in peripheral vision, an idea or thought that has been triggered by the current conversation or thing read, a smell, a sound, a cloud, a radio or TV playing, just about anything really. But attention is always being paid.

Perhaps it is easier to consider the concept of focus rather than attention.

The definition of attention for our purposes is as follows:

Attention: The act of close or careful observing or listening.

People with ADHD are always observing or listening closely and carefully. They just can’t always control what they are observing or listening to.

The definition of focus for the purpose of this discussion is:

Focus: To adjust the distinctness of something being observed or listened to, and the way in which that distinctness is adjusted or controlled.

Ah. Here now, is the the actual issue. So attention deficit is more accurately defined as attention control deficit, or focus deficit.

In the past, names have historically failed to describe ADHD in one way or another. Minimal Brain Dysfunction was vague at best and could be applied to just about anyone as a label. Minimal Brain Damage had the added issue of being inapplicable to someone who had not suffered a physical injury to the head but still displayed the symptoms.

Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood was used for a while and was also found lacking for various reasons.

With increased understanding and further studies the name ADHD may not remain the name of this diagnosis. But if it does, let’s remember that the deficit is not one of attention, but of attention control.

Focus On Attention

Kelly Babcock

I was born in the city of Toronto in 1959, but moved when I was in my fourth year of life. I was raised and educated in a rural setting, growing up in a manner I like to refer to as free range. I live in an area where my family history stretches back 6 or more generations. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 50 and have been both struggling with the new reality and using my discoveries to make my life better. I write two blogs here at Psych Central, one about having ADHD and one that is a daily positive affirmation that acts as an example of finding the good in as much of my life as I possibly can.

Find out more about me on my website: writeofway.

email me at ADHD Man

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APA Reference
Babcock, K. (2015). Focus On Attention. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 24 Feb 2015
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