How to tell ADHD from Anxiety?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by TerryJ2, Oct 21, 2008.

  1. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    I've noticed this popping up in a few threads lately. How does one tell the diff between ADHD and anxiety?
    I know it's not cut and dried, and it's easier to tell as they get older, but are there any real hallmarks?
    When my son has wheat, or when the Adderal wears off, the first thing he does is pace sideways back and forth, like he's got a soccer ball between his ankles. Then he starts hopping like he's got ants in his pants. I often ask him if he's got to use the restroom.
    Then he starts to talk a lot, and his voice gets louder. And then he gets in your face and gets demanding. Whatever it is, he wants it NOW.
    He needs to know WHEN we're going, (where ever), why we can't leave now, and he interrupts phone conversations and hangs all over you.

    He always thinks that if he doesn't return his friends' phonecalls immediately, they will up and disappear off the face of the earth. He just doesn't "get" planning ahead.

    I'm thinking my son has both.
  2. flutterbee

    flutterbee Guest

    I always knew that my daughter did not have ADHD (that Mommy gut thing) because she could sit and focus for long periods of time on things. For example, playing with her dolls or playing a computer game.

    When she couldn't focus was if there was any kind of distraction - someone tapping a pencil, someone talking in the other room, etc - or when her anxiety was high. Other than that, it was the hyperactivity that was the big issue. High anxiety creates a lot of hyperactivity. Think about it: people call it nervous energy or nervous tension as adults. She didn't sit and watch tv. Her bottom was up and down on the couch like she was on a spring the entire time. At dinner, she would take a bite of food and run around the table or living room, come back, sit down, take another bite and off again. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk a mile a minute from one topic to another so fast it made me dizzy. That's where I really got the smile and nod down pat. :tongue:

    She needed constant redirection (and still does) when it came to things that triggered her anxiety - school/homework, for example - but when it was something that she enjoyed she could focus for hours.
  3. crazymama30

    crazymama30 Active Member

    I think with my difficult child the ADHD is more impulsive and hyper. The ADHD is the nonstop talking, the look at me now (really nice when I am driving), the nonstop activity.The anxiety comes out as excessive worry. Many times with him anxiety involves tears, and fear. In tears over whether or not the doors are locked (we have had break ins in our neighborhood lately). That could also go to the look at me when I am talking tho too.

    I have a hard time teasing apart hypomania and ADHD. THat is what I struggle. with.
  4. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    Sounds to me like rebound from the Adderrall. If he has anxiety problems, I certainly wouldn't give him stimulants. That can make it worse. I have had severe anxiety doesn't make you do stuff like you described. Sounds like the drug. It IS speed and you DO go up and down. I've tried stims and really dislike them.
  5. Wiped Out

    Wiped Out Well-Known Member Staff Member

    For my difficult child the ADHD is different from the anxiety. The ADHD is his total inability to focus on anything (before medications he couldn't even sit and watch a tv show through). He didn't actually sit at the dinner table until I don't know how old he was. He talked and talked, and moved and moved. Like Crazymama it's hard to tell the hypmania and the ADHD apart at times. Now that he is on the Clonidine some of the ADHD stuff is control.

    For him when he is anxious he tends to get very touchy over little things and grouchy.
  6. smallworld

    smallworld Moderator

    According to a 2005 New England Journal of Medicine article, the symptoms of anxiety that overlap with ADHD are poor attention, fidgetiness, difficulty with transitions and physical reactivity to stimuli. The symtpoms of anxiety that are not characteristic of ADHD are excessive worries, fearfulness, obsessions/compulsions and nightmares. The diagnostic problem for mental health professionals trying to sort out what is anxiety and what is ADHD is that anxiety can be a source of high activity and inattention.

    In all honesty, you need a good neuropsychologist to sort it out for you.
  7. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    What does your gut say? I honestly have had a pretty good idea what was going on with Wiz from the time I educated myself about the different disorders. My mommy instincts clearly said, "This, NOT That" . I think you DO need a good neuropsychologist or expert to help, but also you simply MUST listen to your own instincts.

    Also, if your child has asthma, sometimes the feelings of not being able to breathe are not easily identifiable, and the child just has a whole body feeling that something is wrong and fidgets for that reason. We learned that with thank you the hard way. It was amazing how that rescue inhaler could calm him down when that was the problem.
  8. Andy

    Andy Active Member

    The 1st time my difficult child saw his medication doctor, the doctor said, "Says here difficult child is being referred for ADD?" "NO, He does not have ADD." "Has he had problems in school the last few years?" (difficult child was enterring 5th grade) "No" "Not even 1st or 2nd grade?" "No" "Then he does not have ADD. If it was, he would have had problems in 1st or 2nd grade." "I know, we don't know what is wrong with him but I know it is not ADD"

    At that point, difficult child was physically falling apart. He could not even ride to a store for the sole purpose of getting a lego set. He was having chest pains and felt like he wasn't getting enough air to breath. He was experiencing somatic symptoms caused by anxiety. Fortunately our doctor also recognized the need to rule out the dangerous reasons for the pains putting my mind and difficult child's to rest. difficult child relaxed as each test came back normal.

    Anyway, take this from someone who has not much experience with ADD. I believe anxiety causes symptoms from an emotional point mainly being fear and/or uncertainty. Everyone exhibits their stress release in a different way - thus the somatic symptoms. My daughter's was stomach aches, difficult child's and mine are headaches. When your body is under the stress of anxiety, it causes distressing physical symptoms and thoughts.

    In ADD, kids are unable to focus on certain things, can not sit still and can become frustrated but more out of confusion as to why things don't work than a fear of something bad going to happen. I believe they have a different emotion than is shown in anxiety. There is stress but not at the deeper level of hopelessness that anxiety produces.

    As for fidgiting - it can be either anxiety or ADD depending on the root cause - is there a fear or worry or can he just not sit still for any reason?

    I hope that makes sense. Just my very unprofessional outlook - but I am learning from other posts! :)
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2008
  9. maril

    maril New Member

    I agree with seeking the opinion of a professional. Possible rebound is also a good point. I have noticed a definite change in difficult child when he is (what I think may be) rebounding when he comes home after school. He takes Vyvanse 30 mg early in the a.m. However, he has other issues, too, so, I may be off base. He also experiences anxiety. I have noticed that he is becoming more involved in treatment and better able to pinpoint his feelings; he has been dealing with ADHD for years.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2008
  10. totoro

    totoro Mom? What's a GFG?

    K is diagnosis'd with ADHD combo type, I don't now if she really has it or if she just has ADHD like symptoms that go with her BiPolar (BP), which is what her psychiatrist1 thought.
    She can sit still and focus, when she is stable. When she is not stable and manic she has racing thoughts and can not sit still.
    When she is anxious, you can hear it in her breathing, her breath gets shallow, and quick. Like rapid fire little breaths. She is very flighty and quick. Scares fast, will get upset over simple things easy.
    For example she feels like she can't do things, like brush her teeth. She will scream, "I can't" but it is an anxious frustrated way... overwhelmed easy.
    Runs away and hides a lot. Panic
    That is anxiety for us.
    For me anxiety is a feeling of overwhelmed, racing heart, caving in chest, deep shallow breathes, everything is just too much. Panic.
  11. Sheila

    Sheila Moderator

    difficult child hides his worrying very well. It's only after the anxiety results in physical symptoms that I can tell the anxiety is kicking in or escalating.

    After a certain point, it easy to tell my difficult child's anxiety from the ADHD, e.g., chews on his shirts, picks cuticles, general behavior deteriorates, psycho somatic illnesses, etc.

    I find the anxiety the most difficult to deal with.
  12. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Thank you all!

    My difficult child has "all of the above."


    He is definitely ADHD and his diet has a lot to do with-it. The less wheat, and the more exercise, the better. He is always moving. At some point, we'll take him off the Adderal but right now I think we'd all lose our sanity.
    The clonidine helps a LOT with-the agitation and anger.
    The anxiety is definitely there in the stomachaches and headaches and asking questions that he shouldn't have to worry about.

    Lots of interesting comments here. Lots to think about.
    I can't wait for Monday and all the testing and all the results. I really hope we get some answers.
    These appts take so long to get, it's enough to drive you crazy.