Today, it feels like every other child (and adult) is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In fact, The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention explains that in the 21st century, the percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase, from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11% in 2011. But does everyone who is diagnosed actually have ADHD? While I am not calling to question the diagnoses of medical professionals, there are many children who exhibit signs of ADHD but may be struggling with something else.
What are some other possible causes for ADHD-like symptoms?
Youngest in the class. Two studies in recent years have indicated that the youngest children in the grade are diagnosed with ADHD more frequently than the oldest children. One study found that kindergarteners who are the youngest in their grade are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest in their grade. The same is true for middle school: another study found that in fifth and eighth grade, the youngest children were almost twice as likely as the oldest to be prescribed medication for ADHD.
Anxiety. Severe anxiety in children can distract them from their schoolwork and can make them inattentive and unfocused. Children who are suffering from anxiety may have trouble focusing but this struggle has nothing to do with ADHD. Instead, if we treat their anxiety, we can help treat their inattentive symptoms.
Learning disability. While ADHD is a learning disability that can make learning new concepts difficult, there are multiple other learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or sensory processing disorder that can do the same. Children with these undiagnosed learning disabilities can sometimes be misdiagnosed with ADHD, leading to inappropriate treatment or medication.
Is it ADHD? It very well might be! But it’s also worth exploring other avenues before deciding conclusively.