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ADHD in Children Health Center

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When It's Not Just ADHD

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD

You’ve been told your child has ADHD. But you’re not sure about the diagnosis or if that’s all that’s going on. What should you do?

Let your doctor know, because it’s common for children with the disorder to have another condition at the same time.

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"Don't assume everything going on is the ADHD," says Ruth Hughes, PhD, former CEO of the nonprofit group Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. "This is rarely a disorder that travels alone.”

Tell your doctor about any symptoms that don't seem to fit with ADHD, she says.

If it turns out that your child has a second condition, you can begin to get it treated.

Depression and Anxiety

People with ADHD are diagnosed with anxiety and depression more often than others. There may be genetic reasons for this, or it could be triggered by the impact ADHD symptoms can have on the child.

Anxiety often appears earlier on. Depression tends to develop as children age.

Either condition could cause ADHD-like symptoms, like poor concentration and restlessness. If you're not sure which came first, tell your doctor what you've noticed in your child to help him figure out what's going on.

The symptoms aren’t always clear. Depressed kids and teens often seem irritable rather than sad, says Ben Vitiello, MD, chief of the Child and Adolescent Treatment and Preventive Intervention Research Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health. "The kid is not patient, gets really upset, has no tolerance for frustration.”

If your child is diagnosed with depression or anxiety, your doctor may recommend bringing her to a psychiatrist for antidepressant medication and therapy. Antidepressants won’t help the ADHD directly, but they can be helpful for irritability or moodiness.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

This is one of the most common conditions linked to ADHD. Children who have it act stubborn, get angry often, throw tantrums, and don't do what parents and teachers tell them to do. The behavior may sometimes be a reaction to frustration.

"They may think, 'If everything I do is wrong, I don't care what you say,' or, 'If my schoolwork is always wrong, why even try?' It becomes much easier not to care what anyone says and do what you want. It also leads to a lot of anger," Hughes says.

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