Boredom is the feeling of being under-stimulated by an activity, and we can all experience this emotion from time to time. In some cases, we can do something about the boredom, but in others, we simply have to tolerate it for some time in order to achieve a bigger goal. For people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), boredom (either of a specific activity, or lack of activity) is experienced much more frequently and intensely, and therefore tolerating boredom, even when a bigger goal is at stake, can be challenging.
When a child with ADHD is under-stimulated, the brain will begin to look for other ways to be stimulated. This might result in fidgeting, doodling, looking around the classroom or daydreaming, causing them to procrastinate from the task in hand. Boredom in learning environments can have a significant impact on the child’s progression, and parents can find it helpful to understand how excessive boredom is linked to ADHD neurodiversity. Parents may also find it useful to be aware of some of the key signs of boredom to help their child maintain focus while learning.
In this blog post, we will cover common signs of boredom, why ADHD and boredom are linked and some key techniques parents can use to support their children in managing their boredom better.
There are lots of signs of boredom that we all will have experienced from time to time. You will likely notice an overlap in the signs of boredom between neurotypical children and children with ADHD. Symptoms aren’t unique, but in people with ADHD, as boredom is experienced more intensely, the signs of boredom can be more visible to an observer, particularly in children. Below are a list of common signs of boredom that you are likely to notice in children with ADHD:
The signs of boredom listed above occur as a result of being under-stimulated. To sustain attention, children with ADHD can demand higher levels of stimulation, especially if they don’t find something particularly interesting. When they are required to stay in a situation that is under-stimulating, such as a classroom where the teaching isn’t particularly engaging, you might begin to notice signs of boredom such as fidgeting, looking around or impulsive (undesirable) behaviours.
One of the main theories of the causes of boredom and inattention in ADHD is the significantly lower levels of dopamine seen in people with ADHD. Dopamine plays a pivotal role in our internal reward system. If we are interested in or enjoy a certain activity, it will result in the release of dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel good, therefore we are more likely to engage in that activity again.
Although dopamine is not solely responsible for ADHD and other factors are important to consider, the theory is that people with ADHD have significantly lower levels of dopamine to begin with, therefore to achieve the same sense of pleasure as a neurotypical person, someone with ADHD will likely need to engage with something that is much more stimulating for them, helping them to avoid high levels of boredom and agitation.
When someone with ADHD is required to stay in an under stimulating situation (e.g. a classroom whereby the topic or the delivery of the learning is uninteresting for them), their brain will quickly begin to seek more stimulation, either in their environment or via daydreaming, helping them release dopamine but causing inattention. In addition, they might begin to fidget, move around or engage with inappropriate impulsive behaviours, all to try and reach a comfortable level of dopamine.
Boredom is not a symptom of ADHD, but a common result of the symptoms, and can impact a person’s life significantly. As mentioned, there is potential for boredom to have a direct impact on school performance for both young children and adolescents, as they may be unable to focus on tasks for the required time. It is important for educational facilities to be aware of the needs of children with ADHD so that they can make the appropriate accommodations available.
As well as school performance, boredom caused by ADHD can impact relationships. Children and young people may appear to be bored of their friends if interactions become routine and involve limited stimulation. For parents, it can help to be aware of this and to encourage maintaining important relationships to support the child’s wellbeing.
Helping children to manage their boredom can be challenging, but there are a number of ways you can inspire excitement and stimulation as a parent, teacher or caregiver. Below we describe 3 ways to help your child with boredom:
Creating a game out of a simple mundane task by adding an element of competition is a great way to encourage children with ADHD to stay focussed, and stimulate enjoyment. The sense of urgency can help improve motivation to complete the task and help children avoid procrastination and putting the task off.
Encourage children to use their imagination, perhaps by creating a fantasy world, similar to what you see in modern computer games, whereby they are challenged in various ways to complete certain tasks as part of a bigger mission. Lots of people with ADHD are very creative, so encourage children to hone into this skill! Once the mission is complete, the child could be rewarded with praise, a star on a chart or some time doing what they enjoy. This positive reinforcement can help them to find more enjoyment in the task.
It can be far more challenging to maintain focus with individual tasks, so try to get your child working collaboratively with their peers. This way, discussing the task, the approach and the output can be made more stimulating, as there are other ideas in the mix. However, it’s important to note that this can also feel distracting for children with ADHD. There may be too much stimulation if too many children are working in the same group, so smaller groups will likely be more appropriate.
At Psymplicity Healthcare, we provide professional support to adults and children who have ADHD. If you suspect your child has symptoms of ADHD, or is showing signs of boredom that you would like some clarity about, don’t hesitate to contact us and book an assessment.
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