Teachers and parents need to beware of confusing children who are attention seeking with those who suffer from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This is the finding of Dr Nigel Mellor an independent Educational Psychologist who presented his research on Thursday 10 January 2008, at the British Psychological Society's Division of Child and Educational Psychology Annual Conference in Bournemouth.

ADHD is an issue of growing concern which has attracted a great deal of research, and interest due to the number of children currently claiming to have the disorder. Unfortunately, attention seeking has been largely neglected by researchers and the two problems can appear very similar making identifying ADHD and treating it effectively very difficult.

The researcher said there are many behaviours which can be observed during attention seeking interactions. Behaviours commonly associated with ADHD (over activity, poor concentration and impulsivity) can appear within attention seeking behaviour. "It is possible that some ADHD is attention seeking in disguise," said Dr Mellor.

The research partly focussed on 15 schools over a period of three years and established that it was possible to distinguish between the two and enable treatment to be used appropriately. It found that children who were attention seeking generally "acted-up" to gain the attention of nearby adults and were able to relate well to older or younger people, just not their peers, displayed good language skills. None of this behaviour could be characterised with ADHD.

Dr Mellor said: "If you consider that the typical support for parents of an ADHD child might require eight to twelve sessions, or even more, whereas attention seeking behaviour can be addressed in as little as two to five sessions. Being able to correctly identify those children with ADHD from those who attention seek will enable us to ensure that we can focus the right kind of support to the right people."

The British Psychological Society