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.

To complicate things even more, many disorders mimic ADHD making it a challenge to make a distinction between these disorders in the beginning. Naturally, it’s important to identify and isolate the issues surrounding each disorder in order to develop an effective treatment plan that will improve symptoms and give your child a better quality of life.

Some disorders that may imitate ADHD or have overlapping symptoms are:

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder and ADHD both have symptoms of hyperactivity, irritability, impulsiveness, and difficulty concentrating. Although they may share some of the same symptoms, the main difference is the duration of the symptoms and how they are manifested. For example, ADHD is a chronic disorder that affects behavior and attention lasting all day. Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder that occurs in cycles with periods of normal mood swings.

Learning Disorders

Learning disorders are frequently misdiagnosed as ADHD because they share some of the same symptoms such as being easily distracted, displaying impulsive and/or disruptive behavior, and difficulty focusing on school work. ADHD compromises all of a child’s cognitive functions, whereas a learning disorder generally only affects one or two areas such as reading or math.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Autism is often confused with ADHD because they share the same symptoms of behavior problems, lack of communication skills, inability to follow directions, and issues with social interaction. In addition, children with ASD may have issues with their speech, may not like to be touched, get upset over loud noises, display a lack of empathy, develop obsessions, or have developmental delays.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is a neurologically based disorder that causes severe anxiety in those affected. It mimics ADHD with similar symptoms of compulsive behavior, as well as being fidgety, distracted, and inattentive. However, OCD is different from ADHD in many other ways. One example is that children with an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are overly concerned about the consequences of risky behavior and have difficulty making spontaneous decisions. Kids with ADHD are impulsive and not afraid to take risks.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is commonly misdiagnosed as ADHD because their similarities include inattention, distraction, impulsiveness, difficulty focusing, hypervigilance, disassociation, irritability, and disruptive behavior. However, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a paralyzing or numbing fear that happens after a child has witnessed or suffered a traumatic or life-threatening event.

Overlapping Disorders

A child can have two or more co-existing disorders, which is referred to as “comorbidity.”  They are simultaneously treated the same way with a comprehensive therapy plan and appropriate medications.

Please read more about how ADHD is often misdiagnosed and/or overlaps other disorders in “Misdiagosing ADHD in Children.” You may also find “ADHD Mythbusters” very helpful as it discusses the numerous misconceptions and myths surrounding ADHD.

If you think your child may be suffering from ADHD or another disorder, don’t wait to get help. Have him or her evaluated by a qualified mental health professional at the earliest opportunity. A proper diagnosis and early intervention is important to get your child on the fast track to success in school and at home.


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