What Is Sluggish Cognitive Tempo?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on August 26, 2022

Sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) isn’t an official medical diagnosis buthas a lot in common with some types of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with SCT have trouble focusing and paying attention, but they’re less likely to be impulsive or hyperactive.

Children who have ADHD often have SCT, too, but you can have SCT even if you don’t have ADHD.

It was first identified in the mid-1980s, and doctors are still trying to figure out how to define it and why it happens. Some researchers who study SCT call it concentration deficit disorder.


Someone with SCT may not be able to process information as quickly as others and may have a hard time with schoolwork, decision-making, or social relationships. They also might:

  • Daydream often
  • Get confused or distracted easily
  • Seem sleepy or be withdrawn
  • Show little interest in physical activity
  • Lose interest in or be slow to finish tasks
  • Have depression or anxiety


To diagnose SCT, a psychiatrist or psychologist will ask about your child’s behavior and emotions. They may also ask you or a teacher to fill out a questionnaire about your child.

They’ll compare your child’s symptoms with those of other conditions -- like ADHD, anxiety, or depression -- and use the answers to the questionnaire to see how likely it is that your child has SCT.


A treatment plan for SCT may include medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

  • Stimulants like methylphenidate (Ritalin) may help with focus and attention, like they do in people with ADHD.
  • Nonstimulant ADHD medications like atomoxetine (Strattera) or viloxazine (Qelbree) are sometimes prescribed.

  • Antidepressants can ease anxiety or depression.
  • Therapy or special education programs may help with processing information, organization, and social skills.
  • Good sleep habits, a healthy diet, and regular exercise can help with sleepiness and concentration problems.

Doctors are still trying to figure out what combination of these things works best for SCT.

Show Sources


Neuroimage Clinical: “Differentiating SCT and inattentive symptoms in ADHD using fMRI measures of cognitive control.”

Oxford Handbooks Online: “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo/Concentration Deficit Disorder.”

Journal of Pediatric Psychology: “Topical Review: Sluggish Cognitive Tempo: Research Findings and Relevance for Pediatric Psychology.”

Journal of Clinical Psychology: “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo is Associated With Poorer Study Skills, More Executive Functioning Deficits, and Greater Impairment in College Students.”

Journal of Molecular Psychiatry: “Sluggish cognitive tempo and its neurocognitive, social and emotive correlates: a systematic review of the current literature.”

ADDitude: “Not Another Type of ADHD!”

Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry: “Uncovering a clinical portrait of sluggish cognitive tempo within an evaluation for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A case study.”

Barkley, R. Barkley Sluggish Cognitive Tempo Scale: Children and Adolescents, Guildford Press, 2018

Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: “A randomized, controlled trial of integrated home-school behavioral treatment for ADHD, predominantly inattentive type.”

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