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ADHD in Ann Arbor: Is it ADHD or Anxiety?

Jen McCulloch, LMSW

You may already be familiar with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and the symptoms associated with the diagnosis. If a child struggles with inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or difficulty managing emotions then the question of ADHD can start to surface.  The next course of action may be to consult with the pediatrician, school professional or a mental health professional. What may not be as obvious is that ADHD symptoms can mimic those of other diagnoses. ADHD is often present along with another condition, this is known as comorbidity.

Anxiety Disorder is an example of a condition that may have very similar symptoms to ADHD. An Anxiety Disorder is more than just feeling anxious, it includes having excessive worry about a variety of situations over the course of time. Up to 30 percent of children with ADHD may also meet the criteria for diagnosis of an Anxiety Disorder.

How do we know which is which?
This is determined by ruling in and out the symptoms related to each diagnosis. This chart from Healthline, although not a diagnostic chart, is helpful to understand the similarities and difference between ADHD and Anxiety symptoms.

ADHD vs. Anxiety

An example of a behavior that could be misinterpreted is difficulty concentrating or paying attention. A child with ADHD might struggle in this area due to the fact that the environment is highly stimulating. Perhaps the child with ADHD is unable to filter out the noise from: the fan running in the corner, the student two rows away who is sniffling, the other children playing on the playground, or the sounds of pencils scratching against paper throughout the room. Meanwhile, a child with anxiety may have difficulty concentrating because he/she is unable to stop the constant thoughts in their head. Did I make a mistake on my math homework? Will my teacher be mad at me if I ask a question? What if the teacher calls on me and I answer wrong? Will everyone laugh at me? As you can see, both scenarios can yield a child who is unfocused in the classroom setting.

Why is it important to differentiate between ADHD and Anxiety?
The most important reason for getting a proper diagnosis is to secure proper treatment. Therapy may be an intervention used to treat both ADHD and Anxiety, but the focus may be markedly different. Certain medications for ADHD can actually increase anxiety symptoms. Therefore, having a full picture of the symptoms, and possible diagnoses, will be important for the health professionals involved in treating the child. The staff at CNLD are experts in determining the best course of treatment for mental health concerns and specialize in difficult cases.

In summary, the diagnosis of ADHD is often complicated by other symptoms and possible diagnoses. It is important to provide a professional with a full picture of the symptoms and behaviors a child presents. With the proper interventions and treatment ADHD and Anxiety can be managed and controlled for a more productive life experience.

If you or someone you care about is having concerns with these issues, please contact our clinic to speak to someone about possible services to help at CNLD.

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