Sometimes kids with anxiety disorders can be misdiagnosed with ADHD, or vice versa. On the surface, the two issues may look similar. Here are some of the ways a child with either issue may act—but for very different reasons:

  • Be inattentive.A child with anxiety may seem tuned out or preoccupied because he’s distracted by worries. A child with ADHD is inattentive because he has a brain-based issue with sustaining focus.

  • Fidget constantly.A child with anxiety may tap his foot nonstop during class because he has a lot of nervous energy. A child with ADHD fidgets because of brain-based issues with hyperactivity or impulse control.

  • Work slowly.A child with anxiety may work slowly because he feels compelled to be a perfectionist. A child with ADHD takes a long time to get things done because of difficulties starting tasks and sustaining focus.

  • Fail to turn in assignments.A child with anxiety may get stuck on a task and be too anxious to ask for help. A child with ADHD doesn’t turn in assignments because of brain-based issues that involve poor planning and forgetfulness.

  • Struggle to make friends.A child with social anxiety may have emotional outbursts that alienate peers. A child with ADHD who’s inattentive can struggle socially because he doesn’t pick up on socila cues. Or he may have issues with impulse control that annoy or alienate other kids.

There are several overlapping symptoms. But there are also key differences. Kids with anxiety disorders often show compulsive or perfectionist behavior. This is not as common in kids with ADHD.

Kids with ADHD tend to have issues with organization. This is not as common in kids with anxiety disorders.

Kids with anxiety tend to worry more about socializing than kids with ADHD. Kids with anxiety may also develop physical symptoms like sweaty palms, rapid breathing and stomach aches.