There are a number of other medical or learning problems that can be mistaken for ADHD. It is very important to obtain an evaluation from a professional who has the time and skill to sort these out. Here are some of the most common:
- Learning Disabilities – The child who has, for example, dyslexia, may act as if they are not paying attention but is actually just having a really hard time learning to read. After a while, they may start to give up and act out in some ways. To make matters more complicated, learning disabilities often coexist with ADHD.
The child with an intense or difficult temperament – these children are very strong willed and will tend to do things only on their own terms. The key here is that they can concentrate beautifully if they happen to be motivated or interested (and I’m not talking about TV and video games-even ADHD children usually can focus on these).
- Anxiety or depression – Both of these can mimic ADHD, and as with learning disabilities, can coexist with ADHD. Anxiety especially, can really look like SADHD, and anxious children can have very negative reactions to typical stimulant medications.
- The Gifted Child – Boredom can be a major problem for the gifted child in an ordinary class. When he or she understands in the first 2 minutes what the teacher is taking 30 minutes to explain, behavioral problems can arise. They may also simply refuse to do work that is too tedious.
- Sleep Apnea – Sleep apnea describes a condition in which a child cannot get adequate sleep, usually due to upper airway obstruction from large tonsils and adenoids. Symptoms include snoring, breath-holding, and tossing and turning at night. Research has shown that this can cause ADHD symptoms.
- Social Issues – Many social factors can contribute to poor school performance which can look like ADHD. Divorce or separation, financial problems, inadequate parenting, abuse, bullying, and many other social factors can cause a reaction which can look like ADHD. One red flag for this is the child who was doing very well in school, and rather suddenly begins to develop problems.
You and your child deserve the time, attention and detailed evaluation of trained experts to determine whether or not it’s ADHD or if it’s something else. I’ll address the components of a thorough diagnosis in a separate post.