Therapist Blog

Disorders that May Accompany ADHD

Children affected by Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often have other conditions that make it hard for them to conduct themselves appropriately. Knowing whether such conditions exist and what they are is a critical piece in diagnosing and treating ADHD.

When it appears that two or more conditions might be operating alongside ADHD symptoms, a professional, such as an ADHD psychologist, will attempt to determine whether one primary condition can fully account for the symptoms. That condition would then become the focus of treatment.

For example, if a person has ADHD symptoms only during periods of depression, then ADHD would not be diagnosed and the person would be treated for depression. If both conditions contribute to the person’s difficulties, then both ADHD and the accompanying condition(s) should be treated.

Here are some disorders that often accompany ADHD:

Learning Disabilities

Approximately 20 to 30 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability

In preschool years, these disabilities include difficulty understanding certain words or sounds and/or difficulty expressing oneself in words.

In school-aged children, extraordinary challenges with reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic may be present.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

As many as 1/3 to 1/2 of all children with ADHD, mostly boys, have another condition known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). These children are often defiant, stubborn, noncompliant, have outbursts of temper, or become belligerent. They argue with adults and refuse to obey.

Conduct Disorder

About 20 to 40 percent of children with ADHD may eventually develop Conduct Disorder, a more serious pattern of antisocial behavior. These children frequently lie or steal, fight with or bully others, and are at risk of getting into trouble at school or with the police.

They disregard the basic rights of others, are aggressive towards other people and/or animals, destroy property, break into people’s homes, commit thefts, carry or use weapons, or engage in vandalism.

These children or teens are at greater risk for substance abuse and dependence.

Children whose behavior suggests they may have a Conduct Disorder should be evaluated immediately by a professional, such as an ADHD psychologist.

Anxiety and Depression

Some children with ADHD have co-occurring anxiety or depression. They may be fearful, nervous or extremely shy. They may worry excessively about a variety of things, such as grades, family issues or relationships with peers. They may fear separation from parents or be afraid of social situations.

They may also have continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness or irritability and anger. Difficulty concentrating, fatigue and low energy, trouble concentrating and feelings of worthlessness or guilt might be present most of the time.

If the anxiety or depression is recognized and treated, children will be better able to handle the problems that accompany ADHD. Similarly, effective treatment of ADHD can have a positive impact on anxiety and depression as their understanding of the world increases.

Tourette Syndrome

A small proportion of children with ADHD have a neurological disorder called Tourette syndrome. People with Tourette’s have various nervous tics and repetitive mannerisms, such as eye blinks, facial twitches or grimacing. Others may clear their throats frequently, snort, sniff or bark out words.

While very few children have Tourette’s, those that do often have ADHD as well. In such cases, both disorders often require treatment that includes medication.

Thinking Beyond ADHD

A recent study found that 33% of children with ADHD had one other significant mental health condition, 16% had two and 18% had three or more. Given these statistics, it makes sense for parents to ask whether other mental health conditions may be accompanying their children’s ADHD.

Similarly, pediatricians, social workers, and ADHD psychologists who evaluate and assist children with ADHD must be on the lookout for other mental health problems that co-exist with ADHD.

By adopting a comprehensive view of ADHD as a complex condition with many facets and often with accompanying disorders, we are in a better position to provide children with the proper care they are entitled to.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an ADHD psychologist in San Francisco with over 20 years of experience. To schedule a free initial consultation, please call 415-922-1122.