In an effort to write about the strange things children do on my wellness site, I have been watching my kids more carefully -- possibly for the first time all summer. It turns out, they do lots of weird things. They must get it from their father. Staring into space is one of them. When my husband looks through me while I am talking, I find it rude and annoying, but I get it. Sometimes, and you may find this hard to believe, I talk too much.
When my kids stare off into space, I am also annoyed. But then, I get that familiar, unsettling feeling. "Oh no. Why is he doing that? I think there is something wrong with him. Is there something wrong with him?" Usually, I quickly realize, in the case of my boys anyway, that there is some moving object behind me, like a car transporter. Admittedly, large, loud things with wheels are way more interesting than I. This makes me feel better -- for about 30 seconds, before they do another weird thing. Ah, the joys of motherhood.
1. Small children.Staring into space can be completely normal. It is a chance for an overstimulated infant or toddler to remove herself from the madness for a moment. When a small child turns away from you while you are playing with her, even if she was laughing only a moment before, resist the urge to get in her mug. Give her the time she needs to regroup.
2. Older children. School aged children too, often need a moment. A study looked at so-called daydreamers and found that children who look away from the teacher often perform better. Kids tend to look away when a task is difficult in an attempt to organize and focus their thoughts. Kids whose gaze stays with the teacher sometimes are relying too heavily on visual cues. This may make it harder for them to process the information or to perform the task at hand. That is not to say there aren't daydreamers amongst us. God bless them but if your child's teacher is truly concerned, don't dismiss her with this study.
3. Autism. Staring into space, or looking like you are in your own world, is one of the many signs of autism. Usually, autism is diagnosed after the age of 2, but if you have concerns about a younger child avoiding eye contact, speak with your physician. Most infants and toddlers will look intently into the face of others to learn social cues and will react to a person based on his expression. There are many symptoms of autism - you don't want to overreact if your child demonstrates just one of them. Then again, you don't want to miss the opportunity to have an early diagnosis and thereby, early intervention.
4. Absence seizures. These seizures usually start between the ages of 4 and 14 and most disappear by age 18. There are notable differences between daydreaming and absence seizures. The seizures can occur at any time, even during physical activity. The child will not respond to being called and they cannot simply snap out of it. Absence seizures can occur many times throughout the day and usually last for about 20 seconds.
5. ADHD. Despite the "H" for hyperactive, many children with ADHD will sit quietly and stare into space. Like autism, this alone will not make the diagnosis, but if you are worried, get off the internet and talk to your doctor.
Adolescents who stare into the distance with a little smirk on their faces when you are trying to talk to them, have a very serious condition knows as teenagism. I have no advice for that one except patience and well stocked wine cooler. If you haven't already heard it, make sure to listen to "Teenage Daughters" by Martina McBride. Don't love the tune but the words are spot on.