You probably don’t have to have a child or be a nanny, school teacher, daycare worker, nurse, or coach to know that there are a shocking amount of cases in the United States in which children are diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder). In fact, according to the CDC, over 11% of children between the ages of 4 and 17 are currently suffering from this disorder. But exactly how accurate is this number and – more importantly – is it an accurate diagnosis?
To preface, this article is not intended to negate the existence of ADHD or to criticize its diagnosis; its mere purpose is to question the rising cases we see on a daily basis and to question if our approach is actually that helpful or healthy.
A little history:
I have been “diagnosed” with adult ADHD for years now. Symptoms include high anxiety, inability to complete tasks, hyper-focusing on trivial things, an inability to sit still for long periods of time, trouble concentrating, an ability to multitask more than the average person, insomnia, hyperactivity, heightened mood swings, etc. You know… pretty much exactly what the symptoms are for ADHD.
The only trouble is: treatment FOR ADHD never alleviated my symptoms or helped with everyday functionality. In fact, pills made it significantly worse.
Fast forward a week ago, and I’m sitting in a new therapist’s office and she’s asking about my mental and psychiatric history. Frustrated, I tell her that I have been diagnosed with ADHD more times than I can count and I think it’s the wrong diagnosis. She smiles at me and says, “It probably is wrong. ADHD is probably a false positive diagnosis.”
“A false positive,” She repeated. “Therapists have been diagnosing your symptoms, not the root cause of them… which is anxiety, not an attention disorder.”
She noticed the confusion on my face and elaborated. “Since you can remember, you’ve always been a highly anxious person, right? Well, anxiety can manifest itself in the exact same way that ADHD can. Anxiety makes it hard to concentrate, it makes simple tasks feel overwhelming, it leads to depression, insomnia, and hyperactivity. And when you are low-anxiety, you are able to focus on projects which probably makes you feel “hyperfocused.” For all of these reasons, doctors have been misdiagnosing you. We need to get to the source of the anxiety, not cover it up with uppers that will make you feel even worse.”
To say I felt relief is an understatement. All of these years of having medicines not work and it wasn’t my fault!
I left her office that day feeling like I had a new lease on life. But it did make me wonder something else: How many children are there that are like me? How many kids are dealing with underlying anxiety and how many of the medical professionals and childhood development specialists are treating it as ADHD?
Think about how hard it is for an adult to recognize and address anxiety? It’s not an easy task, particularly because it is still deemed taboo to have any kind of mental or emotional disorder.
Now, think about a 6-year-old who may have a tumultuous home life, a family that abuses them, or he’s bulled on the playground. Perhaps he’s not learning as quickly as his classmates or he’s having bad dreams every night? How do we expect a child of that age to communicate with us that it is anxiety that is causing him to not be able to concentrate or to lash out in school or to not be able to sit through a class? How is he even supposed to identify anxiety?
It is our responsibility as parents to help our kids identify emotions – no matter how difficult of a task that might be. Once we get to the root of a child’s anxiety, we can help to diminish the intensity of high-stress situations. Or at least teach them coping mechanisms to decrease anxiety. By doing so, we may be able to actually eliminate the need for drugs and the misconception that hyperactivity and concentration issues are always directly linked with ADHD.
To reiterate, I am not suggesting that ADHD doesn’t exist and that some of our youth DOES actually suffer from it. What I’m saying is that it should be the LAST diagnosis we beseech on our children – not the FIRST.
Getting down to the bottom of what environmental triggers might be giving your child high anxiety and addressing them may help with their behavior and mentality in the long-run. Furthermore, it alleviates the use of drugs and helps eradicate undesirable behaviors in a healthy, conscientious manner.
By turning our focus on anxiety as the culprit, your child will be more equipped to handle stressors and anxiety later on in life.