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Why It’s Important to Evaluate Emotional Concerns Along with ADHD

As a psychologist, I get frequent assessment referrals from parents, or their child’s pediatrician or therapist, looking to have their child evaluated for ADHD. ADHD is a common (and growing) diagnosis, and its presence can cause a lot of difficulties and frustration for children and their families. Early detection of ADHD can help avoid (or at least lessen) some of that frustration, because the sooner it’s discovered, the sooner your child can get the support, services, and resources he/she needs.

However, oftentimes parents and those who refer them don’t consider also asking to have their child evaluated for emotional concerns

Why is this important? It turns out that ADHD is a pretty complex diagnosis, and often (though not always) there is something more going on than just an attention issue. In fact, sometimes it turns out that a child who everyone thought had ADHD is actually suffering primarily from an emotional issue.

Think about this: A child who is struggling primarily with anxiety or depression may struggle with things such as focusing in class, remembering to turn in or complete assignments, or they may completely tank tests and quizzes despite knowing the material. Don’t all of those symptoms sound like a child who struggles with ADHD?

But the reality is, that child maybe isn’t focused because she’s anxious about being away from home. Or maybe she’s feeling so down about herself that all she can think about is how much she’s struggling. Maybe your child forgets to turn in homework assignments because he’s so overwhelmed with the workload that he simply can’t retain any more input. Or maybe he feels so down that he can’t bring himself to complete those assignments. What if the only reason she’s bombing her tests is because she’s so worried about getting a good grade and making her parents and teacher proud that she completely blanks every time she’s being evaluated? Or it could be that she feels so defeated and is so fixated on her shortcomings that she’s simply given up trying.

The two most common emotional difficulties that can be masked as ADHD are anxiety and depression

To make things even more complicated, it’s also possible that your child is struggling with both an emotional difficulty and ADHD. Think about it: A child who struggles primarily with ADHD and who isn’t getting the support and resources he needs may eventually get so down that he falls into a depression. Or she may begin to dread school so much because of her inability to focus that it eventually leads to an anxiety about even going to school.

So how can you tell what’s really going on? This is where a full neuropsychological evaluation that assesses a child in all of these areas can be so helpful

A combination of testing and therapy may also be recommended if the lines between ADHD and emotional difficulties seem particularly blurry, because sometimes it takes more face to face time interacting in a more informal setting with a child to dig deep enough to uncover what’s really going on for him/her.

At Hope Springs, our licensed psychologists are trained to offer both full neuropsychological evaluations and quality individual therapy services. If you feel that your child may benefit from either (or both!) of these, please give us a call!

Christina Stai

Author: Christina Stai

Dr. Christina Stai is a licensed clinical psychologist in both California and Iowa. She specializes in young children and received her doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) from Azusa Pacific University, an APA accredited school near Los Angeles. She completed an APA accredited internship and APPIC accredited postdoctoral fellowship at a residential emergency shelter with abused and neglected foster youth.  We are proud that she has joined Hope Springs.

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