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Does my child have ADHD, Anxiety, Or Both?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anxiety symptoms can look very similar and are difficult for even the most seasoned professionals to differentiate. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that if you are diagnosed with ADHD, you may be at a higher risk of also exhibiting anxiety symptoms. Both can have a profound impact on functioning at home and in the classroom. In this post, we will provide examples of symptoms that can be indicative of both ADHD and/or anxiety, and symptoms that are exclusively ADHD or exclusively anxiety, in order to help decide where to go for help and when to get tested.
ADHD is a psychological disorder that typically shows up in childhood. Often times, what comes to mind when someone thinks about ADHD is difficulty concentrating and being overly active, when in fact, there are many more symptoms that are associated with ADHD. Some of these symptoms include:
- losing things
- difficulty starting and/or completing tasks
- difficulty with quiet play, or increased fidgeting.
There are three different classifications of ADHD: predominantly inattentive symptoms, predominantly hyperactive symptoms, and both of these combined. Typically, when ADHD is diagnosed, it lasts over the course of a lifetime.
“Anxiety” is a broad term that is often used to describe excessive worry or stress. There are several different anxiety disorders that may exist in childhood, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Separation Anxiety, and Social Anxiety Disorder. Symptoms of anxiety in children and adolescents include:
- feeling of being easily fatigued
- difficulty concentration
- difficulty with sleep.
- anxiety can last for as little as a few months up to many years.
What symptoms overlap
Just based on the brief overview above, there are many symptoms that overlap with one another. Namely, both ADHD and Anxiety often result in difficulties with concentration. Additionally, both conditions are often accompanied by difficulties with short-term memory. In both ADHD and anxiety, there may also be increased fidgeting or movement during tasks that may not typically involve movement (for example: shaking leg under the desk, twirling or messing with hair, and/or tapping fingers). Both sleep issues and appetite concerns can also exist with both conditions, with problems at both extremes observed (for example: sleeping too much or sleeping too little). Emotional problems can also occur in both ADHD and anxiety, including increased sadness, irritability, or anger. Finally, both ADHD and anxiety can have a higher occurrence of physical ailments, including headaches, upset stomach, or muscle aches.
ADHD and Anxiety exclusive symptoms
While arguably most symptoms of ADHD and anxiety overlap with one another, there are a few signs that exist in one condition that do not necessarily exist in the other.
For ADHD, impulsive decision-making is something that may not be seen in an anxiety disorder. Impulsivity can look like many things, depending on the age of the child, but some examples include interrupting others, physical aggression towards others, or engaging in activities without thinking of potential consequences.
For anxiety, one symptom that may not be as present in ADHD is increased fear or worry. This worry can exist across multiple settings and be in regards to many different things. Often times this worry is disproportionate to the actual risk or stressor. The worry or fear is often very profound and the individual likely finds it very difficult to control.
When to get help
A good indicator of when it is a good time to start seeking out support is when the symptoms start to impact the child’s functioning in one or more areas. For example, if you see a child’s grades begin slipping in school, if they begin withdrawing from social situations, or if they begin to experience increased frequency and intensity of varying emotions. Additionally, it may be important for a child to be evaluated if someone in the child’s life has reported that they are seeing some of these symptoms, such as a teacher or pediatrician.
How to get help (Testing)
- Talk to your pediatrician or primary care provider about getting a referral for testing.
- It is important to get a comprehensive psychological assessment by a licensed mental health professional. This evaluation may take place over several visits and will look at all important domains of your child’s development (e.g., academic, social emotional functioning, cognitive, etc.) and provide relevant recommendations, which may include counseling or medication recommendations, to help your child flourish.
- If school performance is being impacted by any of these symptoms, it may be beneficial to talk to the school about potential implementation of a 504 plan or testing for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
ADHD and Anxiety can be very tricky problems to tell apart, even for mental health professionals. It is important to understand the difference between the two diagnoses and seek help when needed. With the right testing and treatment, children with ADHD and anxiety often live fulfilling and successful lives.
If you’re concerned that your child might be exhibiting signs of ADHD, anxiety, or both, we’re here to help. We specialize in evaluating children’s development across various domains and can provide recommendations to support your child’s well-being. Contact our office today to schedule a comprehensive psychological assessment by our experienced team of licensed mental health professionals.