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Is It ADHD or Anxiety? What A Parent Needs to Know

Today’s blog is written by Laura Williams, LAPC. Laura is a child therapist at the Marietta West Cobb Counseling Center and specializes in working with children from age 2 – age 13.

ADD or Anxiety

ADHD and anxiety disorders are some of most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in children and teens. Do you think you can tell the difference between the two? Let’s take a look at a day in the life of Nicole:

It’s Monday morning and Nicole wakes up, rides the bus to school, sits down in class, and realizes she forgot her science project. Later that day, the teacher reviews class material in preparation for the test tomorrow, but Nicole can’t focus on what the teacher is saying. She  is worrying about getting a bad grade for forgetting her project. And she worries that her parents will ground her and she won’t be able to go to the sleepover this weekend. As a result, by the end of the day, Nicole finds herself not only stressed about her science project, but also about the test tomorrow. Later, when she tries to study, she doesn’t know where to start. She can’t focus and feels overwhelmed, frustrated, and disappointed in herself. At this point, Nicole doesn’t know what to do!

Just by looking at Nicole’s day, it’s hard to tell if she has ADHD or anxiety, or if she’s simply having a bad day. There is a lot of overlap between the two diagnoses. With both, a person might be restless or have difficulty focusing and staying on task. But here are some of the distinguishing factors:

Children with ADHD:

  • Are in constant motion
  • Squirm and fidget
  • Do not seem to listen
  • Have trouble playing quietly
  • Often talk excessively
  • Interrupt or intrude on others
  • Are easily distracted
  • Do not finish tasks.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Constant worry about many different things
  • Feeling on edge
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping.

Many of the challenges ADHD causes can make a child feel anxious. In addition, it’s common for anxiety to be co-morbid with ADHD, meaning they both can exist in one person at the same time. Children with ADHD are at a higher risk for anxiety disorders than children without ADHD. And it’s common for children to receive a diagnosis of  ADHD when what they are really experiencing is anxiety.

Are you concerned that your child might have ADHD or anxiety? Has your child’s doctor already diagnosed your child with one of these disorders? Talking with one of our therapists can help determine the correct diagnosis for your child and help you and your child develop strategies to improve his or her ability to cope and manage their symptoms. Please contact us to learn more about how we can help you and your child.