Does My Child Have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Anxiety?

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Anxiety?

Well this is a tricky question! It is not an easy task to decipher which diagnosis is accurate or if either of them is accurate. It could be a troubling situation that causes a child to act the way he or she does. Anxiety and Attention Deficit Disorder can present in similar ways.

Similarities between Attention Deficit Disorder and Anxiety:

  • Easily Distracted
  • May seem uninterested
  • Fidgety
  • Sleep struggles
  • Lack of focus

The difference is, with anxiety, it’s the child’s (or adult’s) sense of fear that leads them to seem disinterested, fidgety, or distracted as opposed to random stimuli distracting a child from the activity at hand with Attention Deficit Disorder.

Attention Deficit Disorder

Children (or adults) with Attention Deficit Disorder struggle with maintaining focus on things, especially if they have little interest in the activity. Random things can cause a child to be easily distracted such as a piece of garbage on the floor, a bird flying by, or even the simple thought of “What’s for dinner tonight?” The triggers are random, not emotionally based. A child with Attention Deficit Disorder will lack self-control over these triggers and will also have difficulty delaying satisfaction. An example would be when you tell your son or daughter to go brush his or her teeth and 20 minutes later you find him or her playing Legos instead. Legos are distracting and FUN! “What? Brush teeth…oh yea! You did tell me to do that!”

Children who are impulsive and/or hyperactive present as lot more active. Impulsivity is when a person acts without thinking. An example may include blurting out in class or interrupting others while they are talking. Hyperactivity is when a child cannot sit still or fidgets with things. They seem to have a lot of energy that never gets exhausted.

Types of Attention Deficit Disorder:

Inattentive Type:

  • Inability to focus on things of little interest
  • Disorganized
  • Procrastinates
  • Rushes through assignments
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Distracted easily
  • Forgetful

Impulsive/Hyperactive Type:

  • Fidgety, Can’t sit still
  • Energetic
  • Blurts out in class, does not wait his/her turn
  • Interrupts others who are talking
  • Impatient
  • Talks a lot

Combined Type: 

  • Struggles with symptoms in both subtypes

Inattentive type is harder to detect, especially with girls. They may sit well in class, but internally they may have no idea what the teacher is talking about.

Common characteristics of those with Attention Deficit Disorder (of any subtype) may include losing things often, disorganization, difficulty managing emotions, and failing to pay attention to details.

An indicator of ADD is the student’s grades. If he or she has mostly A’s and B’s, but has an F in Social Studies, it’s worth figuring out what is driving the poor grade. A child with ADD/ADHD can still earn mostly good grades when there is a sense of enjoyment in the classes with good grades. If the student is less interested or finds the other subjects difficult, then he or she will be more easily distracted.

On the other hand, just because a child has mostly good grades but is struggling with one or two classes, it does not mean that he or she definitely has a mental health disorder. The child could simply not get along with the teacher or may be struggling with the content itself. A variety of reasons impact grades.

How is anxiety different from Attention Deficit Disorder?

Anxiety can look very different due to the various types Anxiety Disorders, which includes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Trichotillomania (pulling out one’s hair as a result of worrying), Social Anxiety Disorder, Phobias, etc. Each type of anxiety disorder has the common thread of fear driving the symptoms.

It is easy to jump to a conclusion about what your child may be struggling with but no one wants to fall victim to the over diagnosing of Attention Deficit Disorder. Sometimes an objective third party can help you figure it out. No matter what your child may or may not be dealing with, remember that it can be figured out and strategies can be developed to help. Medication is an option, however other tactics can be tried as well.

To learn more about child counseling click here.

Every image is used for illustrative purposes only. Any person is strictly a model.