When we understand how the brain is supposed to function and what results developmental delays may have, we are able to better understand why some kids and adults have a difficult time paying attention. ADHD behaviours appear in kids and adults with an underdeveloped pons and midbrain, poor vestibular and proprioceptive processing and delayed auditory processing.
Incomplete lower brain development can affect our ability to focus in the following ways:
1) A fully developed midbrain (part of the lower brain) filters and prioritizes incoming sensory information. However, if such development is incomplete, an onslaught of information continually floods the cortex, causing everything to compete for the brain’s attention. When this happens, we become easily distracted by something such as a plane flying overhead or someone rummaging in their pencil bag, regardless of how much we want to pay attention to the task at hand.
2) When the pons (also part of the lower brain) is fully developed, we have a good range of visual and auditory awareness. Yet, when this development is incomplete, we’re not wired to give the kind of attention that most people expect. For example, we may not “hear” someone call our name if that person is standing behind us. That’s because if we have a significantly underdeveloped pons, our “world” really is just whatever is directly in front of us.
3) The vestibular system helps keep us alert. But if it’s slow, kids will rock and fidget in their seats because such movement actually stimulates this system. In other words, these kids move so that they can pay attention. Often these kids are viewed in the classroom as being inattentive when they do so.
4) Our vestibular processing also affects our balance. Children who are constantly seeking movement throughout the day may be compensating for poor vestibular processing. It’s easier to balance when we’re moving. However we are always asking children to be still or sit still never thinking about the relationship between poor vestibular processing and natural balance.
5) Proprioception is our awareness of our body in space or environment. We have an innate sense of our body parts. But what if, for example, a child doesn’t know where his foot is when the teacher is giving the assignment directions? If so, he may start to tap his foot. That’s because such action stimulates proprioceptors and gives the brain the information it’s seeking. But since we don’t usually make that connection, we tell the child to “stop tapping.” Only now he’s distracted again since his brain is back to being preoccupied with: Where’s that foot?
6) Auditory processing is what happens when your brain recognizes and interprets the sounds around you. Delayed auditory processing is also often mistaken for not paying attention. For example, when kids process speech at a rate slightly slower than the rest of us, they’ll frequently say, “Huh?” or “What?” This compensation buys them a little more time to process what was just said; however, it’s often misinterpreted as yet another example of not paying attention.