Frequently parents, teachers and school administrators ask me if I think a kid really has ADHD (“Attention Deficit Disorder”). Many people are skeptical, and parents fear their child has been misdiagnosed and asked to take an unwarranted medication. Kids are now being diagnosed with ADHD more often than ever. In fact, the Center for Disease Control currently estimates 1 in 10 kids are diagnosed with ADHD.
When asked this question, my answer is, it depends. Some kids truly have ADHD, and those who do can have different degrees of impairment and need the appropriate support to help them reduce and manage their symptoms. This said, it is important to have a complete and careful evaluation done by a trained mental health professional, which takes into account at what age the symptoms started, a child’s intellectual abilities, trauma history, health history, and current life stressors to ensure your child is getting the right support for his impairment.
Here are some, but not all, common issues which may present like ADHD and warrant further investigation:
Learning Disabilities: It is estimated 50% of kids diagnosed with ADHD have a learning disability such as Dyslexia. A learning disability can make it difficult for someone to focus and succeed academically. Frustration with academic tasks can trigger emotional outbursts and acting out behaviors. If you suspect your child has a learning disorder, ask your school professionals to assess your child for a learning disability. If your school is not willing or is unable to do this you can have a private assessment done by a professional.
Auditory Processing Disorder: Auditory Processing Disorder is a disorder which can cause a child to have a hyper sensitivity to sound, causing words to sound jumbled. In response, a child may withdraw and lose focus with the task at hand. The Therapeutic Literacy Center (http://therapeuticliteracycenter.com/) is one resource in San Diego which can evaluate your child if you think she is suffering with this disorder.
Hearing and Speech Problems: Children with impaired hearing may seem inattentive or easily frustrated because they are unable to hear. If you suspect your child has a hearing problem, it is important to have him evaluated by a medical doctor to determine if he needs a hearing aid or other support. Speech delay or impediment can be a sign of a hearing problem. If your child has problems with speech and/or hearing he may be more likely to have anger outbursts due to anxiety and frustration from his inability to communicate effectively. If you believe your child has impaired speech it is important to have him evaluated by a specialist.
Emotional Regulation Problems: Many children and teens struggle with emotional regulation issues which can contribute to academic problems, and affect her family and social interactions. Some common emotional issues kids cope with are:
Anxiety: Children with anxiety may have difficulty concentrating, fidget, and appear to be easily distracted.
Depression: Kids who have depression may have difficulty concentrating and focusing, especially at school. They might also be more irritable which could seem like impulsivity.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Children with PTSD may appear impulsive or easily distracted when they are actually hyper vigilant , which is a response to a trauma they have experienced or witnessed. They may also have some difficulty concentrating at school.
If emotional problems go untreated they can worsen over time. It is important to talk with your children about how they are feeling, take them seriously and treat them with kindness and empathy, and seek the support of a mental health professional.It is also important to recognize and call upon other supports you and your child have available to you like trusted friends, family, spiritual leaders, mentors and coaches.
Giftedness: Gifted children are often misdiagnosed with ADHD because they may exhibit behaviors which are easily misinterpreted. For example, being easily distracted when disinterested may be misinterpreted as having an inability to concentrate. Fidgeting and excessive movement could be misinterpreted as hyperactivity. And shouting out answers, and interrupting conversations to correct people could be misinterpreted as impulsivity. All of these behaviors can be associated with giftedness. As with learning disabilities, it is helpful to have your child assessed for giftedness. If you suspect this is the case, collaboration with your school is necessary to ensure your child is getting the appropriate support in the classroom. Here are some great resources for parents of gifted children: http://sengifted.org/ and https://www.nagc.org/