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9 Reasons Why ADHD may be Misdiagnosed

ADHD in Children

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children. In the case of misdiagnosis, unnecessary medications and incorrect interventions can worsen the situation.

While no parent wants to give their child medication they don’t need, children are being prescribed stimulant medication with increasing frequency and urgency. These medications come with risks including decreased appetite, mood disorders, increased blood pressure and heart problems.

It is now being recognized that children with underlying issues showing symptoms similar to ADHD are readily being diagnosed as actually having ADHD. While ADHD is a very real disorder, getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step towards managing its symptoms. The following is a list of some possible explanations for an ADHD misdiagnosis.

1. Immaturity
Although some of the behaviors are the same, immaturity does not necessarily mean a child has ADHD. Children who are young for their grade will more often than not be misdiagnosed with ADHD. In a recent study conducted in Japan and published in the Journal of Pediatrics, the youngest boys in a class were 70% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the older boys while 30% of the youngest girls were likely to be diagnosed than the older girls. This is clearly a case of misdiagnosis as calendar age has nothing to do with having ADHD.

2. Food sensitivities
Underlying food allergies and intolerances as well as food based autoimmune diseases like celiac disease can account for ADHD like symptoms.  A study conducted in the Netherlands and published in the Lancet Journal  found that 64% of diagnosed cases of ADHD were actually caused by a hypersensitivity to food and symptoms improved once the offending food was removed from the child’s diet. When a child does not feel well, concentration can be almost impossible. In addition, vitamin deficiencies which are very common in children with food sensitivities, have been known to cause behavioral problems.

3. Poor sleeping habits
Social media and video games often lead to late nights and difficulty sleeping in children and teens.  Less than optimal sleeping patterns as well as sleep disorders are another common cause of children having difficulty concentrating during the day. Sleep is necessary in order for the brain to be healthy and function optimally, especially in children and teens, because their brains are still developing. In 2015, the National Sleep Association published recommended sleep durations for different age groups as healthy sleep guidelines.

4. Stress or trauma
Stress  at home or the experience of a recent trauma frequently results in a child acting out at school or having difficulty concentrating which can be mistaken for ADHD.  In fact, the symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) almost mimic those of ADHD.

5. Other undiagnosed conditions
Anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), sensory processing disorders, autism and hypoglycemia are all conditions that can present themselves in childhood and frequently show symptoms similar to those related to ADHD.  In these cases, it’s vital to get a proper diagnosis in order to get the help your child really needs.

6. Learning disorders
Learning disorders such as dyslexia can manifest with many of the same symptoms shown in ADHD.  Difficulty reading can lead to restless behavior when a child focuses attention on everything except the book they are supposed to be looking at.  Frustration about being unable to complete tasks like other children can also impact concentration and behavior.

7. Unresolved vision problems
A recent study performed at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and published by the American Academy of Optometry revealed that kids with vision problems that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses can be at increased risk for ADHD. Vision problems that have not yet been identified may also lead to wrongly diagnosed ADHD since difficulty seeing can make it harder to pay attention or perform schoolwork in a timely manner.

8. High energy
Just because your child has a lot of energy and has difficulty sitting still for extended periods does not necessarily mean they have ADHD.  Some of the most productive and successful people have energy levels that are difficult to contain.  As they get older, children tend to figure out ways to use excessive energy in positive ways.

9. Extreme intelligence
Children with higher levels of intelligence who are bored in school often become fidgety and restless. This is another possible culprit of a misdiagnosed attention disorder.  You may want to give your child an IQ test before putting them on stimulant medication.

Is it really ADHD?
If you suspect your child may have ADHD, it’s time to seek an accurate diagnosis from a qualified mental health professional.  Whether it’s another unresolved issue causing your child’s symptoms or if it’s established that your child suffers from ADHD, it is important to come up with a plan to meet your child’s individual needs.

75% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 are immediately put on medication before exploring other options when diagnosed with ADHD. Studies have proven that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works as well as medicine without the undesirable side effects. CBT can also be combined with neurofeedback, a therapy in which a child learns to optimize brainwave activity. While medication is sometimes necessary, considering the risks and side-effects, stimulants should be a last resort when all else fails.

Jennifer Reiner, Senior Editor has been writing for Behavioral Associates for more than 10 years.

June 10, 2016

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