Can Emotional Problems Cause ADHD?


"My daughter was diagnosed with ADHD last year, while my husband and I were in the middle of a divorce. I'm not convinced that she had these problems as a younger child. Is it possible for emotional problems to cause ADHD-like behaviors and lead to a misdiagnosis?"

Dr. Larry Silver M.D. is the author of two books about parenting ADHD/LD children.

ADHD is a biological disorder. If an individual has it, it has been present since early childhood. To make a diagnosis, the doctor should verify that symptoms - hyperactivity, inattention, and/or impulsivity - are chronic (have been evident at least since preschool) and pervasive (occur at different times and in different settings - school, home, during the summer). If your daughter's ADHD-like behaviors began only during your divorce and occur only at certain times (when she's visiting a parent, after hearing you argue), consider that a red flag.

If this is the case, the problem is likely not ADHD, but behavior caused by psycho-social stressors. I would take your daughter back to the doctor, or get a second opinion. You may also want to see a family therapist for counseling.

Larry Silver, M.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He is a former acting director and deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as the author of Dr. Larry Silver's Advice to Parents on AD/HD and The Misunderstood Child: Understanding and Coping with Your Child's Learning Disabilities.
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