Has your child recently received an ADHD diagnosis from your family doctor or pediatrician? Have you sought a second opinion from a mental health or behavioral health specialist to ensure the correct diagnosis was made? Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral condition in children, but many doctors suggest that because ADHD shares the symptoms of many other conditions, a large percentage of children have been potentially misdiagnosed. This can create a two-pronged problem because A.) Many of the popular ADHD treatments, including stimulant medication are not indicated in the treatment of these other conditions and B.) If your child is receiving treatment for a misdiagnosed ADHD problem he/she is failing to get the proper treatment needed to help control the real condition. In this article we will outline some of the conditions that can resemble ADHD—conditions that almost always require a different course of treatment.
Is It Really ADHD? A Look at Some Alternate Possibilities
Certain conditions can mimic the symptoms of ADHD, which often results in misdiagnosis. Some of these conditions include:
- Autism. While severe autism is easier to diagnose because of some fairly obvious symptoms, mild autism can cause several problems that mimic ADHD. For example, the inability to create emotional bonds or to fit in socially with other children is a hallmark of both mild autism and ADHD, as is the tendency to be over-excited—a trait that resembles hyperactivity.
- Hypothyroidism. One of the classic signs of hypothyroidism is that it tends to cause sadness and depression, as does ADHD, especially when clinical depression is a coexisting condition. Hypothyroidism can also cause lapses in attention and concentration, which is also very common in children struggling with ADHD.
- Iron Deficiency. Iron deficiency in children can lead to many problematic symptoms, including irritability, impaired cognitive function, a short attention span and the inability to concentrate. In comparison, children with ADHD, whose predominant symptom is inattention, also find it difficult to concentrate and their easy distractibility can often mimic a short attention span.
- Hearing Impairments. Underdeveloped communication and difficulties in social situations are very common symptoms in children who are hearing impaired. They may also display problems with paying attention because of their hearing difficulty. All of these symptoms can also be present in children with ADHD.
- Food Allergies. Many children can have adverse reactions to some of the chemicals that are present in food, including MSG, red dye, artificial flavoring, and high fructose corn syrup. These reactions can lead to a number of troublesome symptoms and behaviors that are similarly found in children with ADHD, including agitation (hard time sitting still) impulsivity (acting without thinking through the consequences) hyperactivity (always on the go, climbing running and jumping when it is inappropriate to do so) and a lack of concentration and attention (daydreaming, forgetfulness, poor school performance).
- Sleep Disorders. When sleep disorders are present in children, these conditions will invariably lead to sleep deprivation. This can cause problems with communication and concentration, and affect a child’s ability to follow directions. Each of these symptoms is also present in children with ADHD as well, leading to misdiagnosis and treatment—treatment that can be counterproductive to a child who is actually suffering from one of the many sleep disorders.
While ADHD is without question a very common disorder in children, parents should be extremely wary of accepting the first ADHD diagnosis as the gospel truth. Parents should try to get at least 3 opinions from different types of practitioners to rule out any physical, mental and emotional problems that could instead be causing the symptoms their child is exhibiting.