Some kids have anxiety. Some kids have ADHD. Some kids have both. But some kids have anxiety disguised as ADHD.
How can this happen you ask?
Easily. Many of the symptoms that will get you a guaranteed diagnosis of ADHD are behaviors anxious kids have as well.
Now I am not saying that anxious kids can’t have ADHD along with anxiety. In fact, many kids have both. But some kids look like they have ADHD when in fact, it is pure anxiety in disguise. These kids are often misdiagnosed with ADHD. This is a dangerous mistake, as many ADHD medications actually exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Let’s break it down.
When anxious kids are nervous they can act HYPER.
That’s right. When they are scared, they might be bouncing off the walls. You might wonder what has gotten into them. They are rocking, bouncing and can’t sit still. They are literally a ball of nervous energy.
When anxious kids are consumed with worry, they can be UNFOCUSED.
Anxious kids are constantly consumed with thoughts – and they are not fun thoughts. When everyone is paying attention to math, they might be worried about who will play with them at recess. They might be sitting there worried about whether or not you are safe. The teacher might call on them, but they can’t hear her. They are too busy worrying.
When anxious kids are overwhelmed they can look DISORGANIZED.
Anxious kids spend much of their time worrying. They don’t often tell anyone they are having these thoughts. They might wonder if they will have enough time to play when they get home. They might wonder if their homework will be too hard. They might shove their school work into their backpack. They might not write their homework down. They hope you are outside waiting to pick them up. What if you are late? Where will they go? Their focus is on their worries, not their organization.
When anxious kids are nervous they often FIDGET.
When anxious kids are nervous they squirm. When they are at school and are stressed, they might shred paper or poke holes in their jeans. They might pick at their eraser until a sea of pink fills their desk. They are unsettled because of their thoughts, not because of their body.
Ask yourself these questions if you are concerned your child has been misdiagnosed with ADHD:
When your kids are hyper is it right before or after something that made them nervous? Before or after school? Before an activity? Before bedtime?
When your kids are unfocused are they daydreaming about Minecraft and Legos or are they battling worries?
When your kids are disorganized are they incapable of organization or are they feeling overwhelmed?
When your child fidgets are they bored or are they nervous?
Unfortunately, it is often hard to discern what is anxiety, ADHD or both.
Sometimes kids look hyper or angry when they are really anxious. This happens more often in boys than in girls, but it can happen in girls as well.
If kids have experienced abuse or trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can highly mimic symptoms of ADHD as well. Kids with PTSD are often hyper-vigilant and unfocused due to flashbacks and fears. If you have a child with an abuse history who has been diagnosed with ADHD, you want to look at those ADHD symptoms very carefully.
If you have concerns about your child being misdiagnosed with ADHD talk to your pediatrician, therapist or psychiatrist for a full evaluation. This article is for information purposes only and I encourage you to have a dialogue with your providers.
It is helpful to understand what is driving kids to become hyper, unfocused, disorganized and fidgety. Once you know what is at the root of these behaviors, you’ll be much more effective at helping your child with these issues.
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