Strengths and Weaknesses of Children/Young People with Attention Difficulties

Often when we look at the characteristics of attention deficit disorder, we tend to look at the weaknesses or the areas we perceive as dysfunctional. We need to understand first what the child/young person’s strengths are to be able to constructively compensate for or alter the weaknesses. This way, we can take what the child /young person does well and use it to help him or her to cope with the weaker areas.


Strengths will vary just as individuals vary, but they tend to cluster in the following basic observable characteristics:

Visual Gestalt Skills

Visual gestalt is simply the ability to see "the big picture" quickly. Children with this strength see the whole picture and quickly determine what has occurred or what will occur.

Long Term Memory

Children/young people with attention deficit disorde rmay be able to accurately recall particular events and experiences which occurred years before.

Creativity, Inventiveness, Imagination

 Children/young people with this difficulty often have particular creativity with great imagination. They are able to describe events with intense emotion and vigour.

Unusual Application of Higher Level Thinking Skills

Often observed in mathematics applications, this ability to quickly integrate simultaneous thinking is a definite strength. The child may miss basic calculation steps but understand the higher application of the problem.

Verbal Expression

They can speak at length about a topic, freely adding other subjects to the initial topic as they speak. Their conversations can be exciting, multifaceted and dynamic


Poor Selective Attention

Tends to focus on unimportant parts of a job. Can’t seem to "tune out" distractions. Hates detail.

Cognitive Fatigue

Yawns frequently. Tires quickly when required to sit still and do a structured task such as schoolwork. Gives up easily on tasks.


Wants everything "right now". Has difficulty waiting for a reward or special event. Tends to want things all the time. Is always thinking ahead about the end result. Does not plan step by step, but jumps ahead to the end result.


Acts too quickly, without planning.

Inconsistent Performance

"Some days they can; some days they can’t". Your child may do very well on a test one day, then fail one the next day. Some days the child/young person seems to pay attention to you; other days, forget it!

Inappropriate Activity

(Sometimes) overactive. Sometimes difficulty paying attention while doing something.

Poor Self Monitoring

"She doesn’t seem to think about what she’s doing". Does not check over assignments for errors. Sometimes does not try to control behaviour.

Poor Memory

Has difficulty remembering specific facts and putting them together. Is likely to be behind in school, especially at the high school level.

Motor Dysfunctions

Has problems with small hand and eye movements (called fine motor skills). Has difficulty with tasks such as writing that require putting several movements together

Adapted with permission from Levine, M., and N. Jordan. 1987. Learning disorders: The neurodevelopmental underpinnings. Contemporary Paediatrics 4:16-43.