Distinguishing ADHD From Similar Presentations
Getting a diagnosis is often the main concern of a parent who has a child with ADHD, or an adult who is seeking treatment for themselves.
A critical milestone when seeking a diagnosis is to separate the above ADHD symptoms from signs of another condition.
Several conditions present in similar ways to ADHD, which can muddy the waters.
Misdiagnosis is a common problem in children as well as adults. Since misdiagnosis prevents proper treatment, it’s important to know which conditions look similar to ADHD.
According to Healthline, conditions that can be confused with ADHD include:
This condition also manifests as restlessness, talkativeness, impatience, impulsivity, and outbursts. However, mood shifts are more pronounced with bipolar disorder.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Similar to children with ADHD, children with autism may exhibit hyperactivity and can find it challenging to interact with others. Children with autism may have trouble paying attention. However, they tend to avoid paying attention to activities they do not like and may fixate on activities they enjoy.
Sensory Integration Issues
When children have trouble processing sensory input, such as touch or sound, they may present similarly to those with ADHD. Signs of sensory processing issues include trouble focusing, difficulty following directions, and hopping quickly between activities. However, children with sensory integration issues often seem more overwhelmed and less excitable than those with ADHD.
Some children with ADHD may have trouble falling asleep. People with sleep disorders may have difficulty concentrating or staying on task during the day. It can be hard to tease the two conditions apart.
When children cannot hear, they cannot follow directions effectively. They may not know they have trouble hearing, or they may try to mask the issue. It is helpful to rule out hearing loss when assessing for ADHD.
When children don’t understand the material being taught or what is being asked of them, they may appear to have ADHD.
Depression and Anxiety
Kids who are sad or anxious may find it hard to concentrate, be present, follow directions, or remember routines. For that reason, any ADHD test should include a screening for these issues.
When ADHD symptoms arise later in adolescence, substance use should be considered. Substance misuse can mimic the symptoms of disorganization, trouble concentrating, trouble interacting with peers, and even manic or “hyperactive” behaviors.
ADHD at All Ages
ADHD symptoms may present at all ages. The ADHD assessment for adults is a little different from that for children.
Adults are unlikely to grow out of ADHD symptoms, as some children do. Adults have different environmental demands than children.
ADHD in Children
In kids and teens, ADHD often causes problems in school. An ADHD diagnosis entitles children to certain rights in an educational setting.
If a student has ADHD, and it is shown to impair their learning, they can qualify for placement in special education classrooms under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
If they don’t need special education but could use extra support in the classroom, they may qualify for a Section 504 plan under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 states that students with disabilities must have the same opportunity to participate in educational programs, services, and activities as their non-disabled peers.
Typically, extra support falls under an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. An IEP is a plan that parents set up with teachers and the school district.
An IEP includes services to help children succeed, such as extra instruction, preferred seating, alternative teaching requirements, or a different curriculum.
ADHD in Adults
Adult ADHD symptoms often appear different from those in children. For instance, we do not typically describe adults as “hyper” but rather as “restless” or “stressed out.”
For adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD as children, symptoms often remain the same and require ongoing treatment. For those who have not been diagnosed when younger, it may not occur to them or even their physician to look for the issue.
However, a diagnosis is critical to receiving treatment, such as medication or psychotherapy. It’s important to request tests if you suspect ADHD.