Is It ADHD or Sluggish Cognitive Tempo Disorder? 4 Ways to Help Your Child Focus


Is your child forgetful, irresponsible, moody and prone to daydreaming? Does   he seem to lack motivation and become easily bored? This behavior could be   related to SCT, or “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo Disorder.”

This new way of  looking at certain ADHD-like symptoms in kids has been  generating quite a bit  of buzz lately. Sluggish Cognitive Tempo Disorder, also  known as SCT, is a  relatively new term in psychology and psychiatry. It’s also  referred to as CDD, or Concentration Deficit Disorder. The disorder came  out of the  initial research of Dr. Russell Barkley, a noted expert on  ADHD, and is now  receiving attention from a number of other researchers.  For the time  being, it’s not an official diagnosis, but rather a cluster of  symptoms  believed to be slightly different from the ones used to diagnose  ADHD.

“Cognitive  exercises have been found to produce desired changes in not only how the brain  works, but how it looks, too. What this means is that you have the ability to  work with your child to help improve their SCT or ADHD symptoms.”


Related: Is your child with ADHD inattentive and  unfocused?

Is It ADHD or SCT?

The symptoms for  this proposed new disorder might sound familiar: kids with  SCT are prone to  daydreaming, can have difficulty staying awake or alert in  boring situations, become  easily confused or bored, seem to be “spacey” or in a  fog a lot of the time, and  often don’t process information as quickly or  accurately as others.

Some of these  symptoms are very similar to those seen in individuals with  the predominately “Inattentive”  type of ADHD, which include:

  • Not paying attention to  details
  • Trouble focusing attention on and  organizing tasks
  • Not listening, even when  spoken to directly
  • Not following through on  instructions
  • Avoiding tasks which require an  extended mental effort
  • Loses things necessary for required  tasks
  • Being easily distracted and forgetful in daily  activities

Some of the  primary differences thought to exist between Inattentive ADHD  and SCT are that  SCT also includes poor motivation, low self-esteem and  low energy levels. The matter only gets  more confusing as some of the research  findings indicate that some of those  with SCT may also meet criteria for any  one of three types of ADHD:  Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly  Hyperactive-impulsive or Combined-type  ADHD.

For now, it  remains questionable whether SCT is an actual diagnosis. Why are  diagnoses so important, you may ask? Because a valid diagnosis is  necessary  for a health provider to be paid by insurance. Some diagnoses may  qualify  students for special services at school, as well. Right now, being  diagnosed  with SCT alone will not lead to either of these.

Related: Anxious about your child all the time? How to  get calm, and stay calm.

As a child  psychologist, my view is that while we currently use diagnoses  such  as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder and LDs in practice, each child with one  or more of  these diagnostic labels is quite different from another with the  exact same  labels. If you suspect your child has an issue, what is needed is a   comprehensive evaluation that may include a number of professionals (medical,   educational, and psychological) to discover what is causing the problems, and   then determining together how to resolve them.

I Think My Child Might Have ADHD or SCT. What Should I   Do?

So, what should a  parent do if they see possible signs of SCT, ADHD or  simply a child who is  having trouble at school, seems to be moody or lacks  energy, is often spacey and in a fog, or has  trouble processing  information?

Well, first have  him or her checked out by your pediatrician for any  possible medical issues  that could be causing the symptoms. If the results say  that your child is in  good physical health, one of your first options is to  try a behavioral program that uses research-based techniques. (So far there  are  not many studies out on treatment for SCT, but the one study done  showed  positive results for kids with SCT was the use of  a comprehensive behavioral program.)

Here are four ways  you can work with your child to help improve their  concentration, focus and  alertness.

1. Brain Exercises: As a child  psychologist and the father  of a grown son with ADHD, I developed a host of  exercises in The Total Focus Program to help kids improve their  concentration. I’ve found that the key is  presenting these exercises as games,  and making them fun to do together.

Simple  games like Memory, Concentration and crossword puzzles can improve  attention, focus  and working memory–the three executive functions of the  brain. Scientific  studies using brain imaging techniques show that as a  specific exercise is  practiced over and over for a while, new brain pathways  are actually developed  and strengthened—which improves executive function.  Cognitive  exercises have been found to produce desired changes in not only how  the brain  works, but how it looks, too. What this means is that you have the  ability to  work with your child to help improve their ADHD or SCT symptoms.

As you do these “brain exercises”  together, you should work with your child  as his or her coach. Provide them  with encouragement and track their progress  as they improve. This also  strengthens the relationship you have with your  child.

2. Positive statements: Teach your child to use positive   statements to change how she thinks about herself and how to handle the   challenges of life. This is called “positive self-talk.” Cognitive behavioral  therapy techniques like this are effective in helping children improve   motivation and self-confidence. If your child with ADHD or SCT has low  self-esteem, teach her to let go of negative self-talk. As the saying goes, “Be  very careful how you talk to yourself, because you are listening.” This  is just as true for kids as it is for adults.

Related: The surprising cause of most  child misbehavior—and how to fix it.

3. Relaxation techniques: Relaxation training, including  deep  breathing and the use of simple methods of biofeedback, helps reduce  anxiety in  kids and improves mood. This ends up improving not only academic  achievement,  but other aspects of your child’s life as well.

4. Use Rewards. The use of simple rewards can work  wonders  in motivating a child toward success. Combined with other tools,  your child can  make a turnaround and move in the direction of becoming a more  successful and a  much happier person. (Studies have also shown that for kids with ADHD, positive  reinforcement actually is more effective in changing their behavior than  punishment.)

You don’t have to stand  by and watch your child struggle and become  discouraged as he falls further behind his peers both academically, and  in his ability to enjoy life. By taking a little time out of each day to  work  with your child, he will gradually strengthen his ability to focus and  complete  tasks. And at the same time, you’ll be building a positive  relationship that will lead to joy and satisfaction for both you and your  child.

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