TYPES of Attentional Deficits


by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Drawing of a brown-skinned man in a hat, walking through a shallow body of water, cat-tails growing in the background. He is about to be surprised by a crocodile because 100% of his attention is on a book in front of his face: Safety Tips.Attentional Deficits: Three Biggies

While ALL attentional deficits are, strictly speaking, neurological events – meaning that they are marked by changes in the pattern of brain waves, the location of area doing the work, and the neural highways and byways traveled to get the work done  – it is useful to think about them in three separate categories:

  1. Physical
  2. Neurological
  3. Situational

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The First Two Categories

Physical attentional deficits that are  those that are the result of brain damage, whether during the gestation and birth process, from a head injury caused by an accident or contact sports, or as the result of the absorption or ingestion of neurotoxic substances.

While simplistic, and not 100% correct, I will put dementias characterized by brain deterioration, neurological tangles and/or amyloid plaques (like Alzheimer’s), in this category as well.

Neurological attentional deficits are the ones that are primarily neurochemical, rather than those that are the result of physical damage to the brain structure itself – especially when referring to those “a-typical” neurochemical events that are “standard” for the brain being scanned.

The neurological category includes the attentional deficits of individuals with some types of learning disabilities, and those with diagnostic attentional spectrum disorders.

I also include what I call garden variety age-related attentional impairments in this category, including those that accompany menopause (with further apologies for being a tad  simplistic, and not 100% correct.)

Most People Fall Here

Situational attentional deficits are those transitory lapses that occur whenever our ability to attend is temporarily impaired.

For Example:
Attentional lapses occur when the brain is temporarily impaired or underfunctioning due to:

  • Medication, alcohol or other substances
  • Grief or other strong emotional responses
  • Stress, especially prolonged stress
  • Illness, and/or
  • Sleep deprivation

We also experience situational deficits of attention any time the number of events requiring our attention and focus exceeds our ability to attend – when there are too many items competing for focus at the same time, like:

•  When someone in the room is talking to us while we are trying to get directions over the telephone, the kids are having an argument, the TV is blaring, and then somebody rings the doorbell!

•  Times when we are so busy we are continually distracted by our mental to-do lists, the need to multi-task and interruptions from people who need our attention.

•  When we’re under deadline pressure so intense we can barely think of anything at all besides how much time is left and whether we’re going to make it.

You too?  You betcha!

Check out The ADD “ADHD” Club is Open for Membership – No Application Needed for more about THAT!

EVERYBODY living in an industrialized society in our CrazyBusy world will have challenges with attention and focus, and ANYBODY anywhere who has current health challenges will find themselves included in one of the three categories

  • We ALL experience attentional deficits that cause problems in our lives, making it tough for us to stay intentional long enough to reach our goals.
  • Whether physical, neurological, or situational, deliberate strategies must be consciously employed to make it extremely easy for us to attend, register, and link for memory.

Otherwise, the chances are good that we will have little more conscious awareness of what happened than a sleepwalker!

ADD or NOT,  if you’re wondering if YOU or a loved one has problems with attention and focus –
check out Symptoms of Attentional Struggles

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Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(and in case you missed some links above)

Other related articles on this site:

BASICS of Attentional Issues:

**SOME content overlap – different info

Some articles in the Intentional Attending series:

The best ADD Basics:

Sleep & Cognition:

Related Articles ’round the ‘net

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

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