Anxiety masking as ADHD

As a psychotherapist, I have seen many children and adults that suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Anxiety. Thousands of children every year are given prescriptions from their pediatricians and psychiatrists because they have the inability to focus, stay on task, pay attention, or self-regulate. Children have a lot of energy and boys are often more boisterous than girls. As a society, we at times, can be too quick to label a child with a diagnosis such as ADHD and it may happen in their less than 10-minute visit to your pediatrician.  Do I agree there are a great majority of children who receive a valid diagnosis and need medication- definitely! Are there also children who have a lot of energy, are not following the rules in class, etc. and are being given a quick mis-diagnosis, walking out with a prescription in hand? Yes, sadly, it is also happening and I see them in my office regularly.

One of my top areas of specialization is trauma and I have seen more than my fair share of children who suffer from high levels of anxiety which presents as ADHD. These children are often forgetful, have a hard time paying attention, and are not organized. They have a hard time sitting still for any length of time and they fidget- a lot. People can suffer from anxiety at any time in their lives and chronic anxiety can be seen in children as young as 2-3 years of age.

If your child is able to sustain attention for long periods of time while at home but has a hard time at school or in a group setting, it may be social anxiety. Children need to release the energy they have through play, sports, etc. Staying inside for many hours, engaging in activities such as playing video games or sitting behind a computer screen will overstimulate their brain. Too much overstimulation is not good because the brain will stay “stuck on overdrive.”  Try to limit your child’s electronic usage to one hour per day.

Activities like puzzles, yoga or meditation for children, creating art, writing, pretend play, or learning toys, are all wonderful for healthy brain development.

There are relaxation techniques and more natural supplements that children can take, if needed, for both anxiety and ADHD. Other children will need medication.

If at all possible, make sure your child has had psychological testing done before insisting they have a diagnosis that warrants medication.  If you have tried every medication and none seem to work for your child- there is a great chance it is anxiety.

Please give them the necessary medication if needed but also just make sure you rule everything out before doing so. In a seven- year study (2008-2014) by The Center of Disease Control, of the 6 million children who had been diagnosed with ADHD, 2 million were diagnosed between the ages of two and five! Health officials are urging parents to try behavior therapy before trying medication. Seventy-five percent of those diagnosed choose medication. The greater concern is the side effects and long-term possible effects from use of medications such as, sleeplessness, poor appetite, irritability, and slowed growth.

You are their advocate, their voice. Please chose wisely.




Camie Vincent