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Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT)

Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT) is a relatively new term coined by researchers to describe a potential new psychiatric disorder that isn’t yet covered by the DSM-5 (the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders). The condition is thought to be relatively similar to ADHD but with some key differences.

Symptoms of SCT

Right now, ADHD is the only recognized psychiatric disorder that specifically affects attention. This is currently split into three types:

  • Predominantly inattentive
  • Predominantly hyperactive
  • Combined

To be diagnosed with ADHD, the patient must demonstrate six or more symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity (similar to impulsivity). The symptoms for inattention include:

  • Failure to give close attention to details
  • Difficulty holding attention on tasks
  • Does not listen when spoken to
  • Does not complete instructions
  • Struggles to organize tasks
  • Is reluctant to complete tasks that require mental effort
  • Loses things
  • Easily distracted
  • Forgetful

Meanwhile, the symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity include:

  • Fidgeting
  • Squirming
  • Inappropriate leaving of seat
  • Running and climbing inappropriately
  • Does not play quietly
  • Answers before question is completed
  • Excessive talking

Note that these symptoms are used for diagnosing children with ADHD rather than adults. And if the child displays six of these characteristics from either/both groups, then they will be given a positive diagnosis.

SCT is similar to this condition then but with some distinct differences. Those with SCT are thought to have symptoms that are exclusively more similar to the inattentive aspects of ADHD. Again though, they are also thought to have distinct differences from a presentation of ADHD that is exclusively inattentive.

Specifically, it is thought that those with SCT may have more difficult with engaging with tasks. While they can sustain attention once it is engaged, they have difficult engaging. They are more likely to be confused by more information and to struggle to keep up with others (1).

More specifically, the symptoms currently outlined for a possible future SCT diagnosis include:

  • Prone to daydreaming
  • Difficulty remaining awake in ‘boring’ situations
  • Easily confused
  • Spaced out
  • ‘In a fog’
  • Slower movement
  • Difficulty processing information
  • Underactive
  • Tiredness

Right now, SCT is not recognized as an official condition but as research continues it might one day become as well recognized as ADHD. It is thought that the condition may be related to dysexecutive syndrome, which is caused by impairments to the brain’s ‘executive system’ that allows for concentration, goal oriented action and attention (2).

Things to Keep in Mind

The potential new classification for a different kind of attention disorder is very interesting and could potentially make waves in the education system as well as in our view of psychological health in general. It could be very possible that thousands or millions of children around the world are struggling through academia with PCT and a diagnosis could be instrumental in helping them to secure the assistance they need.

But there’s another argument to this as well. The concern when new psychiatric conditions are introduced is that they might be crossing a line and not actually describing a ‘condition’ at all so much as simply a personality trait or a way of being. It’s very possible that these ‘symptoms’ are just aspects of a personality or just lacking skills.

What’s key to recognize is that every single human brain is very different. Different connectivity, prominence in different regions and different impairments is what makes us all unique and what makes different people better at different things. The danger is that our strive for ‘equality’ means we end up medicating the individuality out of one another.

There are two sides of every argument and each case should be judged on its own merits. However, these symptoms certainly outline a certain type of child and how they may have difficulty with certain aspects of school life.






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