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AD/HD With Other Disorders

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By Kristin Stanberry

Conduct Disorder (CD)

A child who has Conduct Disorder may consistently:

  • Try to "break the rules" without getting caught.
  • Run away, skip school, and break curfews.
  • Lie or steal.
  • Be physically aggressive toward people or animals.
  • Destroy property.
  • Be considered a "juvenile delinquent" by authorities.

Tourette's Disorder and other tic disorders

A child who has this condition may:

  • Display motor tics - involuntary muscle twitches and spasms.
  • Exhibit vocal tics - involuntary speech or voice sounds.

Tics may be a chronic problem or occur only occasionally. They vary in how severe they are.

Diagnosing Psychiatric Disorders

While many pediatricians and family physicians can diagnose and prescribe medication for AD/HD, a psychiatrist is usually required when a secondary condition exists. To make a proper diagnosis, the doctor will gather information from you and your child. Here are some questions you can expect:

  • What specific feelings and behaviors does your child have that concern you?
  • How long has your child felt and acted this way?
  • Does the problem prevent your child from functioning normally? If so, where - at home, school, social events, etc.?
  • Where are the feelings and behaviors most apparent - at home, school, social events, or in public places?
  • Do any other family members show the same symptoms, or have they been diagnosed with a specific condition?

The doctor will also determine if your child's problems are unusual for his age. The guide most physicians refer to when making a diagnosis is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV). Diagnosing such problems can be tricky, because:

  • At this time, there are no simple medical procedures or lab tests to help diagnose these disorders.
  • The challenges of having AD/HD can lead kids to feel anxious, depressed, and angry.
  • There is some "symptom overlap" between AD/HD and the other conditions listed above.

It can take a period of time for the doctor to make the diagnosis, so be prepared to be patient and cooperative during the process. You may be asked to bring additional reports from your child's school or pediatrician.

The Diagnostic Debate about Bipolar Disorder

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder (also called manic-depressive illness) in children and adolescents remains controversial. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), this is because "bipolar disorder is difficult to recognize and diagnose in youth…because it does not fit precisely the symptom criteria established for adults, and because its symptoms can resemble or co-occur with those of other common childhood-onset mental disorders. Better understanding of the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder in youth is urgently needed." The National Institute of Mental Health and other institutions are conducting research on child and adolescent bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, the NIMH goes on to say, "A child or adolescent who appears to be depressed and exhibits AD/HD-like symptoms that are very severe, with excessive temper outbursts and mood changes, should be evaluated by a psychiatrist or psychologist with experience in bipolar disorder, particularly if there is a family history of the disorder."

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.


Comments from readers

"I have a 9 yr old nephew that has the signs of ADHD, depression, ODD and conduct disorder, he sees a counslor but there has been no progress made during these sessions as he has not be given of these diagnosises by the professional but as a social worker I can see them, how do I help my sister and her husband to get this get needed help as he is very disruptful in school and at home making the home life for all miserable. Does anyone have any suggestions? The family has a limited income and lives in Michigan. "
"This is a great article and it has helped me to show my daughters teachers what is going on with her and what needs to be done about her issues. I also used the related links and took the article National instituete of Mental Health: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This website had adequit info for me to show my daughters teachers."
"hi i think this is a great website. since reading this website i noticed that my daughter may suffer from more then ad/hd i have spoken to my GP as i am waiting for an assesment on her."