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8 Reasons Why Your Student Might Not Have ADHD

I’m a parent who had their child “diagnosed” with ADHD in second grade. It was suggested that we put him on prescription medication to calm his brain down. The thing was I had this gut feeling like ADHD wasn’t what was causing his behavior at school. We had just moved into a brand new school district where he was having difficulty making friends, his diet was filled with junk food, and he didn’t have much of an outlet. After making some big adjustments just in his diet and activity level, the behaviors previously diagnosed as ADHD vanished.

This experience as a parent has led me to believe that sometimes we get it wrong when it comes to this disorder. Before jumping to a diagnosis of ADHD, perhaps we can consider some other alternatives that will help children in the long run.

ADHD is a very real disorder, but one that is frequently misdiagnosed. Doctors and frustrated parents are sometimes too eager to apply the ADHD label to behaviors that may have other triggers. Here are 8 possible reasons that what your student is struggling with may not be ADHD at all.

1. Learning Disabilities

Like ADHD, learning disabilities can cause disorganization and make it difficult for students to stay focused and complete assigned tasks. These two problems often look the same and sometimes accompany one another. Gifted students who are not challenged enough also display similar behaviors.

2. Stress

Sometimes problems at home or other stressful situations distract students. Divorcing parents, a recent move, a death in the family, or bullying can all weigh heavily on students. It is surprising what social stress can do to a child’s behavior.

3. Psychological Illness

Like adults, children can suffer from depression, anxiety disorders and other psychological issues. Children, however, may have more difficulty understanding and explaining what is happening to them.

4. Behavioral Disorders

Like psychological issues, behavioral disorders in children also look a lot like ADHD. Behaviors caused by conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and other problems may be mislabeled as ADHD.

5. Medical Conditions

Sometimes physical problems produce behavioral and psychological symptoms. Thyroid issues, neurological conditions, epilepsy and other physical problems may be to blame for a student's negative behaviors.

6. Eye Problems

According to the Optometrists Clinic Inc, children with poor eye sight are much more prone to illiteracy and poor performance in school. If a child can’t engage with your material, they will engage with other stimuli that may be causing unwanted disruptions in the classroom.

7. Food Additives

Children diagnosed with ADHD are often found to be sensitive to the dyes used in food products. Unfortunately, these dyes and colorants are so pervasive that is difficult for parents to keep their children on a diet free of these additives, even when they are aware of the issue.

8. Nutrition

Sometimes the problem is the food itself, rather than the additives and dyes added to it. Malnutrition can be a problem as can skipping breakfast. Too much sugar makes some students fidgety and overly active as well.

9. Insufficient Sleep

Both the amount and quality of sleep matter. Some students simply don't get enough sleep while others suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation leaves students in a fog that makes it extremely difficult to stay focused and concentrate.

When you notice behavior indicative of ADHD in a student, be aware that other problems could also be to blame. Parents and doctors often rely on the observations of teachers to help diagnose and solve problems, so be aware of issues that may masquerade as ADHD but actually be something quite different.

Image Credit: D Labora via Flicker

Hannah Whittenly

Hannah Whittenly

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