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Could it be ADHD or a vision problem?

boy in classroom with ADHD

Does trouble focusing always mean ADHD?

Symptoms caused by vision issues are sometimes similar to those caused by ADHD. While only a trained specialist can diagnose ADHD, this 60-second assessment can provide helpful information for your doctor. It can also be the first step toward helping your child’s academic problems. 

Assessment of symptoms

If your child is having trouble focusing and you suspect they have ADHD symptoms, schedule an eye exam to first rule out vision issues. An eye exam with a qualified eye doctor can determine if a visual problem is the underlying cause. 

Go through the following lists and mark which symptoms and behavior patterns affect your child. This information will provide your child’s eye doctor and pediatrician with valuable insight as they assess your child and work toward a diagnosis. 

Signs of vision issues in children

If your child exhibits any of the following symptoms, a vision problem may be the cause of their trouble focusing:

Signs of Vision Issues in Children
Behaviors Avoidance of near-work tasks
Academic performance below expectations
Rushing through homework and other assignments
Making careless mistakes on schoolwork
Short attention span
Zoning out in class or when extended focus is needed
Forgetting what they have read
Rubbing eyes frequently
Sitting very close to the television
Holding reading material very close
Seeming oblivious to distant objects
Tilting the head or covering/closing one eye to see clearly
Difficulties Keeping track of their place on a page while reading
Staying organized
Following directions
Sitting still
Seeing the ball or teammates when playing sports
Reading the board at school
Complaints Having blurry vision up close (when reading from a book or computer screen)
Having blurry vision at a distance (when reading the board from across the classroom)
Feeling the effects of eye strain
Experiencing double vision
Having headaches following vision-related tasks

READ MORE: How do I know if my child needs glasses?

Signs of ADHD in children

If you notice your child presenting any of the following behaviors, their difficulty focusing at school may be a result of ADHD: 

Signs of ADHD in Children
Impulsivity/Hyperactivity Fidgetiness
Problems staying seated
Difficulty playing quietly
Excessive talking
Difficulty waiting their turn
Blurting out answers too quickly
Interrupting others
Inattention Difficulty remaining focused
Poor attention to detail/making careless errors
Problems prioritizing tasks
Poor follow-through
Poor time management
Avoiding tasks that require sustained mental effort
Losing personal effects (sports equipment, books, etc.)
Easily distracted by irrelevant things
Emotional dysregulation Irritability
Mood swings
Angry outbursts
Motivational difficulties
Problems managing negative emotions (this is more common in adolescents/adults with ADHD)

Note which of these symptoms and behaviors your child exhibits and share the resulting list with your child’s doctors. Coupled with the findings from a comprehensive eye exam, this information can help your child’s doctors determine whether your child’s focus- and attention-related symptoms may be due to vision issues or ADHD.

READ NEXT: Vision problems can be misdiagnosed as ADHD or ADD

School-aged vision: 6 to 18 years of age. American Optometric Association. Accessed February 2022.

ADHD and vision problems in the National Survey of Children's Health. Optometry and Vision Science. May 2016.

Attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed February 2022.

Symptoms and diagnosis of ADHD. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 2021.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Mayo Clinic. June 2019.

Emotion dysregulation in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry. March 2014.

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