Have you ever wondered if your child has ADHD, anxiety, or both? Since traits like impulsiveness, emotional meltdowns, problems sleeping, and trouble focusing are often associated with both (Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) ADHD and anxiety, it can be hard to know which challenge your child is facing.
Despite sharing some common symptoms, ADHD and anxiety are distinct conditions that require careful differentiation to provide appropriate support and interventions.
In this article, we will jump into the differences between ADHD and anxiety in children, shedding light on their characteristics, diagnosis, treatment, and how they can overlap.
For more clarity, let’s start with the definition of ADHD and anxiety. The core symptoms of ADHD are inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsiveness.
TYPES OF ADHD
Predominately Inattentive/Distractible: This type of ADHD is characterized by inattention without hyperactivity.
Combined ADHD Type: This is the most common type of ADHD. It is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors as well as inattention and distractibility.
Predominantly Impulsive/Hyperactive: This, the least common type of ADHD, is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors, but does not include inattention and distractibility.
The impact of ADHD on children’s lives cannot be understated. These precious children face daily challenges like:
- Academic problems
- Social and behavioral difficulties
- Emotional implications
DEFINITION OF ANXIETY
Children with normal feelings typically don’t worry as much, or as often, as children with Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD) in the same circumstances.
Simply stated children with GAD worry about the same things as other children, but they tend to do so in intensely and in excess.
OTHER TYPES OF CHILDHOOD ANXIETY
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
A child with SAD frequently worries about being apart from family members or other close people. The child habitually fears being lost from their family or that something bad is happening to someone in the family if the child is not with that person.
Separation anxiety is normal in very young children. Nearly all children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old have separation anxiety and are clingy to some degree. But the symptoms of SAD are more severe. A child must have symptoms of SAD for at least 4 weeks for the problem to be diagnosed as SAD. A child with SAD has worries and fears about being apart from home or family that are not right for his or her age.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Children and teenagers with social anxiety disorder experience excessive and persistent fear of social and/or performance situations such as school, parties, athletic activities, and more. They are extremely worried that they may do something embarrassing, or others will think badly of them.
The first symptoms SAD in children is often tantrums, crying, freezing, clinging, and refusing to go to school, not going to parties, or not eating in front of others. Some children will complain of headaches and stomach aches when faced with social interactions.
KEY DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN ADHD AND ANXIETY
There is evidence of the coexistence of ADHD and anxiety. Either way, we recommend that you seek out a professional diagnosis if you are concerned about your child having ADHD, anxiety, or both disorders. Get help and a diagnosis by consulting with a pediatrician, child psychologist, or psychiatrist.
ADHD: Impulsivity, distractibility, hyperactivity
Anxiety: Excessive worry, fearfulness, avoidance, physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, stomachaches)
ADHD: Struggles with executive functioning, attention, and impulse control
Anxiety: Persistent anticipation of negative events, heightened emotional responses
ADHD: Typically manifests earlier in childhood
Anxiety: Can develop at any age, usually chronic
ADHD: Impaired dopamine and norepinephrine regulation
Anxiety: Over-activation of the body’s stress response system
TREATMENT APPROACHES FOR ADHD AND CHRONIC ANXIETY
The three most common approaches for ADHD are behavioral interventions, educational accommodations, and medication options.
At Rockwood Prep we specialize in behavioral modalities and proven educational strategies for children with ADHD.
Treatment approaches for anxiety include, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and pharmacological interventions.
The differentiation between ADHD and anxiety in children is crucial for appropriate support and tailored interventions to help them thrive. While overlapping symptoms can complicate the diagnostic process, understanding the distinct characteristics of each condition enables parents, educators, and caregivers to provide the necessary resources and management techniques.
Early identification and comprehensive evaluations by medical professionals are key to accurate diagnosis and the implementation of effective treatment strategies, ensuring children receive the support they need to reach their full potential.