When Symptoms Overlap - Differentiating Attention Issues

June 21, 2018

For children under the age of 18, ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When a child is struggling with forgetfulness, fidgeting, careless mistakes, and sleep problems, ADHD is often the diagnosis, but there are many medical conditions that also cause these symptoms. When symptoms overlap, it can be a confusing time. An online search for symptoms like distractibility, impulsivity, poor attention, and more can return results for ADHD, auditory processing disorder, autism, and so much more.

 

 

It’s imperative you work with a trusted specialist to get a comprehensive evaluation when working towards a diagnosis for your child. Some children may have more than one condition, while others may be misdiagnosed. The intervention therapies differ drastically depending on a diagnosis, so understanding exactly what your child is facing is key to getting the right care in place.

 

When preparing for appointments with your specialist, it’s important to be observant, and take plenty of notes about your child’s behavior so you can present a clear picture about what you’re seeing at home. As you’re comparing and contrasting the information you’re getting with what you’re seeing in your child, it can be hard to make sense of it all. We’ve outlined three common conditions discussed when looking at typical ADHD symptoms, to help you get a better understanding of how these conditions compare and contrast.

 

ADHD & Autism

 

These two conditions share many symptoms, but it’s important to remember that they are different. A child can have both ADHD and be on the autism spectrum, but ADHD is a biological condition, while autism is a range of neurodevelopmental conditions. Based on the diagnosis of ADHD, autism, or both, the recommended therapies will be very different.  Here are some traits specific to each diagnosis, as well as an overview of common symptoms of both.

 

ADHD

 

  • Is easily distracted

  • Daydreams frequently

  • Is forgetful

  • Seems not to listen

  • Has trouble following instructions

  • Lack of impulse control

  • Has a hard time completing tasks

  • Struggles with organization

  • Is impatient and struggles with waiting their turn

  • Talks out of turn

  • Acts without thinking of the consequences

  • Plays roughly

 

Shared

 

  • Gets frustrated to the point of meltdowns or tantrums

  • Struggles socially, has trouble making friends, holding conversations, and reacting appropriately

  • Fidgets, moves, and fiddles with things constantly

  • Has trouble with nonverbal cues

 

Autism

 

  • Avoids eye contact

  • Shys away from physical contact

  • Speech problems

  • May repeat phrases over and over

  • Sticks to a very clear routine, and gets upset when that routine changes

  • Self-soothes through repetitive body motions (rocking, hand-flapping, etc.)

  • Will seem to be obsessed with a certain interest or experience

  • Struggles to relate to others or show an understanding of their feelings

 

 

ADHD & Auditory Processing Disorder

 

Though these are both brain-based conditions that share a number of similar symptoms, ADHD and auditory processing disorder are very different. It’s not always easy to differentiate the symptoms, but the recommended interventions are specific to the diagnosis. ADHD makes it hard for kids to pay attention and stay focused while an auditory processing disorder makes it hard for children to process what they are hearing. While an auditory processing disorder impacts language-related skills, children with ADHD struggle with executive functioning, memory, and regulating their emotions. When symptoms overlap, it can be confusing, here are some of the shared characteristics and differences you may see:

 

ADHD

 

  • Daydreams frequently

  • Lack of impulse control

  • Has a hard time completing tasks

  • Struggles with organization

  • Is impatient and struggles with waiting their turn

  • Talks out of turn

  • Acts without thinking of the consequences

  • Plays roughly

  • Gets frustrated to the point of meltdowns or tantrums

  • Struggles socially, has trouble making friends, holding conversations, and reacting appropriately

  • Fidgets, moves, and fiddles with things constantly

  • Has trouble with nonverbal cues

 

Shared

 

  • Seems to not listen, or as though they are “tuned out”

  • Is forgetful

  • Has trouble following instructions

  • Is easily distracted

 

Auditory Processing Disorder

 

  • Has a hard time following conversations

  • Struggles to respond when asked a question verbally

  • Will ask you to repeat yourself a lot

  • Often responds with “huh?” or “what?”

  • Has trouble following spoken instructions

  • May have speech issues, and confuse similar sounds

  • Struggles with rhyming

  • Poor listening comprehension

  • Prefers to read alone rather than listen to them aloud

 


ADHD & Learning Disabilities:

 

The symptoms of ADHD and learning disabilities can be very similar, depending on the specific learning disability a child has. While 30%-50% of kids with ADHD have a specific learning disability, ADHD itself is not considered a learning disability. You may be seeing some similar behaviors and symptoms, or you could be seeing a child with both ADHD and a learning disability. Because the underlying causes for a child’s struggles can be very different, and interventions should be tailored accordingly. Here are some of the ways ADHD and learning disabilities may present in children:

 

ADHD

 

  • Seems to not listen, or as though they are “tuned out”

  • Daydreams frequently

  • Has a hard time completing tasks

  • Is impatient and struggles with waiting their turn

  • Talks out of turn

  • Acts without thinking of the consequences

  • Plays roughly

  • Gets frustrated to the point of meltdowns or tantrums

  • Struggles socially, has trouble making friends, holding conversations, and reacting appropriately

  • Fidgets, moves, and fiddles with things constantly

  • Has trouble with nonverbal cues

 

Shared

 

  • Appears forgetful, lazy, or unmotivated

  • Struggles to follow multiple instructions

  • Struggles with organization

  • Problems with paying attention

  • Inappropriate responses in different situations

  • Is easily distracted

 

Learning Disabilities

 

  • Delayed language development

  • Poor/delayed social skills and motor coordination

  • Struggles with sight words and rapid letter recognition

  • Difficulties sounding out words

  • Struggles with independent reading and retention

  • Difficulty organizing thoughts

  • Difficulty with concepts related to time

 

 

It’s not always easy to recognize symptoms, or understand what the underlying cause may be, especially with so many coexisting symptoms between conditions. Research is ongoing to better understand attention issues and the problem behaviors associated with them. Working with a qualified professional to get a comprehensive evaluation is imperative, in order to find the best programs and therapies for your child.

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