By Joe Borders,
Marriage and Family Therapist
August 8, 2019
We’ve been doing a lot of marketing to get SacWellness out to the public! Back in February we had an article published in Growing Up Roseville magazine. You can find it in their magazine, but as per usual, whenever I publish something in print I make a more expansive version for my website(s). Check it out ^_^
Does Your Kid Have ADHD….Or Is It Something Else?
Have you ever had the thought that your kid might have ADHD? The thought has crossed just about every parent’s mind at some point in time. Kids are naturally energetic, active, and often have short attention spans, so it’s no wonder so many of us think about this.
If you’re truly concerned about the possibility that your child may have ADHD it is important to get them evaluated. When properly diagnosed, ADHD can be treated by various forms of therapy and medication. As a therapist, I have heard numerous accounts of receiving a diagnosis and treatment for ADHD being life changing. But the key is in receiving the appropriate diagnosis.
As is the case with other medical issues, successful treatment of psychological/behavioral problems is dependent on getting the right diagnosis. Two different disorders can look very similar but respond differently to different treatments. This is similar to the way smoke coming out of a car’s tailpipe is generally bad, but the color of the smoke helps you diagnose the cause of the problem and decide how to fix it. In people, just as in cars, you really have to look at what’s causing the symptoms in order to effectively treat them.
In my experience, ADHD is one of the most commonly and easily misdiagnosed mental disorders. ADHD, PTSD/trauma, and many anxiety disorders can all look very similar to one another. They all feature an overactive mind in some form accompanied by behaviors that can sometimes appear erratic and impulsive.
Take this example: lets say I have a client sitting in my office and he’s fidgeting and looking around the room:
If he has a history of trauma he may be looking around the room for signs of danger and to map out an escape route and/or find the nearest thing he can throw if danger arises. He may be fidgeting because he is anxious and/or trying to cope with the effects of trauma.
If he has an anxiety disorder then he may be fidgeting because he is trying to cope with his anxiety or he could even be engaging in compulsive behavior, where he feels compelled to do certain behaviors. He may be looking around the room because he is anxious about a variety of scenarios he is playing out in his head. Like the person with a history of trauma, he may be looking for the nearest thing to throw or the best way to escape if something bad happens.
Finally, if he has ADHD he may be fidgeting because he has an abundance of energy and is trying to contain/manage it. He may be looking around the room because he simply can’t hold still and is having trouble focusing.
All three of these possibilities might look the same on the outside. It is important to take a look at what’s happening on the inside to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. This is part of why it can be really important to bring kids struggling with issues like these to therapy. A therapist can take the time to sit with your child and work with them to sort out what is going on behind the outwardly observable symptoms.
Kids Exhibit Different Symptoms
Part of why its so important to get your kid into therapy and to get an evaluation is because many mental health disorders look different in children and sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’re dealing with. A common example of this is anxiety. Depending on their age, many children aren’t able to verbalize feelings of anxiety. They may not even understand what anxiety is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had 14, 15, and 16 year olds in session who I’ve had to define anxiety for.
Because they may not be able to voice what is happening, children tend to express anxiety in other ways. They may become irritable, angry, inattentive, cry, throw tantrums, and/or become avoidant. Also, because they may have little understanding of what they are experiencing, they are more likely to experience physical symptoms such as nausea and stomach cramps.
Another issue to take into account here is that, regardless of a person’s age, mental illness left unaddressed begets more mental illness. If a child has been struggling with ADHD, anxiety, or the effects of trauma for a while without addressing them, they are likely to worsen and/or grow into other issues. Most commonly, especially in children, unaddressed mental health issues can often lead to depression and/or anxiety.
Therapy Can Help
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health in any way, it can be good to consult a professional. If you can, get them connected with a therapist. People often hold the mistaken belief that a person needs to be “broken” in some way to need therapy. This really isn’t true. Just about everyone can benefit from therapy. At the very least it can be a place to unpack what’s going on in your life and sort out what you want to do with it.
Therapy is particularly important for children because they process everything so immediately and in the moment. They don’t process things verbally in the same way adults do. Child therapists work with children to help them express whatever they’re feeling in whatever way they can. If your child is struggling with a mental disorder like ADHD, PTSD, or an anxiety disorder, a qualified therapist will be able to provide you with some guidance, insight, and observations that might contribute towards getting an accurate diagnosis.
Kids exhibit mental health related symptoms differently than adults. Sometimes it can be easy to confuse different diagnoses with each other. Many disorders like PTSD and anxiety disorders are commonly confused with ADHD. You’ve really got to take a look at what is causing the symptoms in order to get an accurate diagnosis. Therapy can help with this. SacWellness can help you find therapists in the greater Sacramento area who work with ADHD, PTSD, and anxiety issues.
Joe Borders, MFT, is a therapist with offices in Roseville and Sacramento. He specializes in working with couples, teens, addiction, and the LGBTQ community. He is also the owner and founder of SacWellness.com: a website designed to help people find therapists in the greater Sacramento area.