Table 3.

DSM-PC: Developmental Variation: Inattentive Behaviors

Developmental VariationCommon Developmental Presentations
V65.49 Inattention variationEarly childhood
A young child will have a short attention span that will increase as the child matures. The inattention should be appropriate for the child's level of development and not cause any impairment.The preschooler has difficulty attending, except briefly, to a storybook or a quiet task such as coloring or drawing.
Middle childhood
The child may not persist very long with a task the child does not want to do such as read an assigned book, homework, or a task that requires concentration such as cleaning something.
The adolescent is easily distracted from tasks he or she does not desire to perform.
Special Information
Infants and preschoolers usually have very short attention spans and normally do not persist with activities for long, so that diagnosing this problem in younger children may be difficult. Some parents may have a low tolerance for developmentally appropriate inattention.
Although watching television cartoons for long periods of time appears to reflect a long attention span, it does not reflect longer attention spans because most television segments require short (2- to 3-minute) attention spans and they are very stimulating.
Normally, attention span varies greatly depending upon the child's or adolescent's interest and skill in the activity, so much so that a short attention span for a particular task may reflect the child's skill or interest in that task.
  • Taken from: American Academy of Pediatrics. The Classification of Child and Adolescent Mental Diagnoses in Primary Care. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Primary Care (DSM-PC), Child and Adolescent Version. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 1996