Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic mental health disorder that affects millions of children. It includes a combination of problems such as being easily distracted, displaying impulsive and/or disruptive behavior, and difficulty focusing on school work. Children often perform poorly in school and struggle with low self-esteem. Other issues may include:
- Frequent daydreaming
- Excessive talking
- Constantly fidgeting
- Unable to remain seated for any length of time
- Difficulty finishing assignments or chores
- Frequently interrupting others
- Unable to wait for his or her turn
- Difficulty organizing tasks or projects
- Often loses things such as homework or personal objects
Looking at this list, it probably represents half of the children in school today. While ADHD affects approximately 11 percent of school-aged children within the U.S., some of these kids may be at different developmental stages and just need some time to catch up, while others could have undiagnosed learning disabilities.
However, the biggest concern is that some of these children may have more serious or overlapping disorders with similar symptoms that often go undiagnosed and untreated.
An inattentive child may actually be gifted – and bored. Or he may be experiencing anxiety involving a classroom bully, or something more serious such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
A child who seems hyperactive or unfocused may be suffering from sleep deprivation or have sleep apnea. Lack of sleep does not always produce lethargy – especially in children. We all know how wired kids get when they go past their bedtime.
Children who seem to frequently daydream or are unable to finish assignments could have an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that diverts their concentration elsewhere.
A disruptive child who has frequent outbursts and appears to be oppositional may actually have an undiagnosed learning disorder that makes it difficult to master certain skills such as math or reading. Or, he could have a bipolar disorder with wildly fluctuating mood swings.
These are just a few examples of how different disorders can mimic ADHD and are often misdiagnosed. In this series about ADHD in children, we will talk more about some of the common misconceptions and how they interrelate to other disorders.
The reality is that different mental illness disorders often share common symptoms which can reflect several different diagnoses. If a disruptive child has a mood disorder with frequent meltdowns, a prescription for Ritalin is not going to make things better. It could actually make them worse. A good mental health professional can give your child a comprehensive evaluation based on a wide range of factors. This information will be critical in helping the professional reach a diagnosis so that a child receives the appropriate treatment and gets him on the path of stability.