When I am asked this question, I always answer with, “Maybe, but it doesn’t matter to me if he has an official diagnosis. There are things we can do now to help him improve his focus and organization.” (I then refer them to their pediatrician for a formal evaluation if they’re still concerned.
I am the person who walks into a room with my coffee cup in hand and loses track of it one minute later, with no recollection of it ever leaving my grip. Consequently, I have huge empathy for the student whose pens and pencils disappear during the first week of school, or who finishes every assignment on time but can’t find it when it’s time to turn it in.
“I bought her a planner, but she won’t use it!” This complaint indicates an organized parent who would be lost without her own planner. Fact is, some of us just aren’t “planner people.” (Cynthia Tobias calls us “piles and files” people.) I suggest students try a variety of methods for keeping track of assignments, including sticky notes, digital devices, and a wipe-off board at home. Some students just keep a blank sheet of paper in their binders and list assignments as they go (then hope the binder goes home with them). I also encourage students to make use of school websites to find homework due dates.
Sometimes what looks like a focus problem is just a learning style. In her book The Way They Learn, Cynthia says that visual learners need to picture the lesson, so they look like they’re daydreaming. Auditory learners need to talk about the lesson, so they look like they’re interrupting. Kinesthetic learners need to move, so they look like they’re just fidgeting and not paying attention.
Once students know their own learning style, they can take steps to adapt in the classroom. For example, visual learners might draw picture notes instead of writing words; auditory learners might make up rhymes inside their heads; kinesthetic learners might have a (quiet) fidget toy.
For both focus and organization solutions, experimentation and proving it works are the keys to finding a good system.
Does he have ADD? Perhaps. . .but the more pressing question is – “Does he have the coping skills he needs?”