Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

The primary characteristics of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (A-D/HD) are persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that do not fit with the child’s developmental level and impacts their ability to participate in social and academic activities, according to the American Psychiatric Association (2013).

Further, children with this disability may have difficulties with school performance, social acceptance, and family interactions.

Children can have 1-3 of these areas of difficulty. Children may be:

  1. Only unable to pay attention.
  2. Hyperactive and impulsive, but able to pay attention.
  3. Unable to pay attention, hyperactive and impulsive (the most common form of A-D/HD).

What You Might Notice

In an interview situation, according to the Oregon Department of Justice, children with A-D/HD may:

  • be unable to focus on what you are saying long enough to hear the entire message
  • be unable to keep what you said in mind long enough to think of a reply, reply, and wait for you to respond
  • get stuck on one topic or activity or go off topic with unimportant details

Children with inattention may:

  • not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • have difficulty paying close attention to details
  • have difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • be reluctant to do things requiring them to think for a period of time
  • be easily distracted by what is going on around them
  • be forgetful

Children with hyperactivity may often:

  • fidget, squirm, and move around constantly
  • leave their seats when they are supposed to sit still
  • feel restless and talk excessively, not be able to play or do activities quietly

Children with impulsivity may:

  • act without thinking
  • say the wrong thing at the wrong time
  • often interrupt other people’s conversations or games
  • guess, rather than taking time to solve a problem

In addition to the above symptoms, you may note:

  • weak problem-solving skills
  • poor sense of time and timing
  • difficulty resisting distractions and delaying gratification
  • low tolerance for frustration, changeable mood, poor judgment

(The above sections adapted in part from American Psychiatric Association, 2013, as cited in Fowler.)

Before Meeting the Child

Children with AD/HD may need frequent breaks, and may need to meet in a room that does not have distractions such as noise, people passing by, and clutter.

Some children will feel more calm answering questions if they can play with a squeeze ball or another manipulative toy. For others, toys may be too distracting. Ask a non-abusive caregiver what would be most helpful.

If the child is taking daily medication, find out the medication schedule and its effect. Children with A-D/HD may also have “drug free” weekends, so holding the interview on Monday morning may not work as well.

Provide space for children to get up and move around.

Sometimes visual aids can help children with A-D/HD stay focused on the topic. Examples are a checklist of question topics, which can be crossed out as they are answered, or a picture representation of the topic as a reminder.

(Adapted in part from New York State Office of Child and Family Services; and B. Crawford, personal communication,  July 11, 2014.)

During the Meeting

As with all children, talk in a calm voice and make simple requests.

Schedule breaks, and allow the child to move around or fidget, which can help them focus. 

Maintain focused eye contact while interviewing, which can help the child concentrate.

Provide positive feedback to help the child understand what you expect. (Example: "You’re doing a good job sitting here for so long.")

Asking questions. Assess the child’s level of attention by asking them to summarize something you said.

If you believe the child is distracted or has drifted off, repeat the question, but be neutral in how you ask. Don't imply that their answer is incorrect. Example: "You seem to be a little distracted, so I'm going to ask the same question again."

Try asking focused questions. Example: "Tell me more about what Tommy did."

If the child does not immediately answer a question, it is better to wait than to ask the question again right away, which could be more confusing.

(Adapted in part from New York State Office of Child and Family Services and Oregon Department of Justice, p. 30.)