Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorders in children under 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Is ADHD really that common? What if doctors were confusing ADHD with other, similar disorders that emerge during childhood?
Children are often diagnosed with ADHD when they experience sleeping troubles, fidgeting or forgetfulness. Many other medical conditions result in these symptoms, however, making diagnosis a tricky endeavor.
Here are four out of several disorders that mimic the symptoms associated with ADHD:
Bipolar disorder and ADHD share many symptoms including mood instability, outbursts, restlessness, talkativeness and impatience. Manic episodes are very easy to confuse with hyperactivity.
Bipolar disorder and ADHD do have distinct differences, although these can be subtle and difficult to notice. ADHD tends to emerge before the age of 7, whereas bipolar disorder tends to develop in the teen years and beyond. ADHD is also chronic, whereas bipolar disorder is episodic — a person with ADHD will always be restless and talkative, whereas a person with bipolar disorder will experience these symptoms in distinct episodes.
Children with vision problems often appear to be ignoring information in the classroom. They might not look at the teacher, appearing to daydream, or they might miss important information that is discussed in class. These symptoms can resemble the inattention associated with ADHD, causing doctors to misdiagnose children with vision problems.
Children who are suspected to have ADHD should receive a comprehensive vision test before receiving therapy or medication.
Learning disabilities can also make children appear to be inattentive in class. They may ignore the teacher, perform poorly on tests or act restless and disrupt other children. These children don’t have problems paying attention — they have problems understanding the information, which in turn causes them to pay less attention. For example, children who don’t understand math, no matter how hard they try, will eventually stop listening to the math teacher.
Not all seizures involve intense convulsions — some seizures resemble staring spells instead. Children with absence seizures (previously known as petit mal seizures) may appear to be daydreaming or otherwise “out of it” for several seconds at a time. Unlike children with ADHD, children with absence seizures have these staring episodes in all settings, whether they’re playing with their friends or sitting at school.
Even though many other disorders resemble ADHD, this does not mean that ADHD doesn’t exist. Individuals with ADHD exhibit a clinical inability to maintain attention, which can cause numerous difficulties in everyday life. Rather, doctors must thoroughly evaluate patients to make sure they are receiving the treatment they need.