Children with ADHD are more prone to anxiety than kids without ADHD – and that is during “normal” times when we are not in the middle of a national crisis. Today, with coronavirus social distancing laws in place, schools closed for the foreseeable future, and anxious parents grappling with extra stress and uncertainty, vulnerable children, including those with ADHD, are experiencing spikes in anxiety.
While it’s not surprising to hear that kids are feeling more anxious than usual right now, you may be surprised to know that it’s often harder to pick up on signs of anxiety in kids when they also have ADHD. Why? Because they often closely mimic the symptoms of ADHD themselves.
In fact, many trained professionals struggle to distinguish between anxiety and elevated ADHD symptoms or disruptive behavior in children with ADHD. On top of this, many children aren’t actually aware of their anxious thoughts and feelings, and they lack the sophisticated language needed to describe complex anxious thoughts and emotions.
So, what does anxiety look like in kids with ADHD? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but some of the most common symptoms include:
For the symptoms of anxiety that overlap with symptoms of ADHD or disruptive behavior disorders, parents should be on the lookout for a worsening of these symptoms as potential signs of anxiety. For example, if your child usually has difficulty concentrating or sitting still, but now struggles much more in these areas, then this may be a sign of anxiety.
If your child is usually argumentative a few times a week, but right now they rarely seem happy and are constantly arguing with everyone at home, then it may be more than just frustration with school closures and home confinement. It may be an expression of anxiety, especially if other signs from the list above are popping up as well.
If you think your child may be struggling with anxiety, talk to their pediatrician. They can help you find a provider who can tease apart your child’s symptoms to determine whether anxiety is in fact part of the picture. If your child takes medication for ADHD, ask their prescribing doctor if ADHD medication could be contributing to your child’s anxiety during this stressful time. For some children, ADHD medication can make anxiety worse even as it helps with ADHD symptom management.
The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable, especially in kids. While your child will continue to have at least some symptoms of anxiety during this stressful time, working with the right clinician can help you and your child learn tools that will make their anxiety much more manageable while everyone is confined at home. Long-term, you can continue to help your child use these tools so their anxiety can stay in check even when the current crisis is over and life returns to normal.
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.