Many parents are worried about their kids struggling in school, and they ask what’s happening to their kids. They’re wondering why their kids are exhibiting unusual behaviors.
This remains to be a mystery to most people, and it’s because we're not talking about neuroscience. And that's what our podcast is all about. We want you to understand that there's neuroscience that is going to inform and help you understand that your struggling child or student is going to be okay.
There are science-backed solutions for you and your kids that will help lessen the confusion as to why your kids have ADHD or a similar case. We need to understand the things negatively affecting their attention.
What are the most common things that are misdiagnosed in kids?
One of the most common things that I see that is misdiagnosed all the time as attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a child with dyslexia or learning disability. This is because a child looks inattentive when they’re suffering from a learning disability.
When your brain meets its maximum capacity, your learning hits a level that you're in overload. Kids with learning disabilities have to process harder than a brain that doesn't have to look at a word.
For a dyslexic person, it becomes challenging since there’s no unlimited capacity for brain power. On the other hand, kids without dyslexia don't have to use that brainpower for reading words out.
Another thing misdiagnosed is executive dysfunction. So, let's talk about what executive functioning is and what it's not. First, we have to define what attention is. It is the brain's ability to alert executive functioning, which is responsible for planning and prioritizing actions for a future event.
Executive functioning can be part of any clinical condition, not just ADHD. Everybody with ADHD has executive dysfunction, but not everybody with executive functioning issues has ADHD. It can be a secondary component to some other conditions. For kids, it’s quite difficult to pay attention. They don't have the planning, prioritizing, and organizational skills.
And third could be a concussion, head injury, or birth trauma. This can be a result of a difficult birth you may have had with your kid. You’ll notice that they never sleep well, and this could be impacting their ability to pay attention.
Thankfully, there are many treatments available for people suffering from head injuries or concussions. And, of course, on top of that list is neurofeedback which has a proven track record of helping these people. If you don't already know about it, it can be a game changer.
Mental health conditions that are hard to see on the surface
Other mental health conditions in kids that are hard to see on the surface are anxiety, OCD, mood disorder, and depression. These conditions occur along a continuum in terms of observability.
We have our internalizers and externalizers. For internalizers, kids hold everything in. They might be withdrawn or worried, and they don’t tend to have as many outbursts. They always keep to themselves.
For externalizers, kids usually have outbursts telling us to go away. They tend to freak out because of what’s happening. They’ll always let you know what they’re feeling. They lead with anger even though what's behind it is fear.
What's always behind anxiety and OCD, in particular, is fear. I’m sure it’s pretty relatable to parents considering that we’re always afraid for our kids and what’s going to happen to them. Sometimes, this fear goes out of proportion and doesn’t always come out right.
With anxiety, OCD, and mood disorder, it is understandable that your kids are always going to have a hard time focusing because they’re drifting to their inner thoughts. In the case of kids struggling with depression, they could be drifting to hopeless thoughts. These are what we should look out for.
Mental health problems are always going to make it harder to be engaged, be in the moment, and be present.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, you’ll most likely have a hard time being engaged, being in the moment, and just being present. Your attention is being affected not in a good way, and your mind keeps drifting to your inner thoughts.
In fact, many people diagnosed with ADHD never get to the surface or beneath the surface. They're only staying at the surface because we're not considering them as a depressed kid since people with mental health problems, including kids, are really functional.
This is both a blessing and a curse for externalizers. They’re often angry, breaking down, and getting attention. And that means they're getting help. On the contrary, internalizers don't often get help until they really break down or until it's a crisis level and their anxiety moves to a full depression.
Other conditions that may be the reason why your kid could be struggling in school are PANS, PANDAS, and Lyme Disease. It must be noted that anytime we have infectious diseases or toxins in the brain, we're going to have a harder time paying attention.
There’s going to be a lot of inflammation happening in the brain, and that’s going to be a real problem. Thus, kids with these diseases have trouble paying attention not just in school but also at home.
What happens when the brain is overactive?
When your infection is incredibly active and you undergo brain mapping or acute EEG brain mapping, you’ll see a tremendous amount of overactivity. You’ll also see how tired the brain is.
When the brain is overworked, it’s obviously going to be harder when they've had long-term chronic illnesses. Most of the time, the brain just sort of wears out and so it will most likely result in adrenal fatigue and other physical problems.
Most kids with autism struggle with executive functioning because of the rigidity of their brain.
Since kids with autism lack neuroplasticity, they struggle with executive functioning because of the rigidity of their brain. When you look at their brain, you also see hyper-communication, which is reflected in their behaviors.
Anxiety is also pretty common with autism and what happens is you’re not going to be able to pay attention. However, most kids with autism still have some level of executive functioning, particularly in non-preferred areas. They can be amazing rock stars when they're doing things as all kids do.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) as a Lazy Man’s Diagnosis
For me, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a behavior and is a lazy man’s diagnosis. It is your noncompliance or opposition. It’s when somebody asks you to do something and the rage comes out.
Kids with focus problems, executive functioning issues, mood disorders, or autism can really struggle and be oppositional when you ask them to do something that they're ill-prepared for.
The rigidity prevents them from doing something. Like I always say, medication should never be the first option for kids with ADHD or any mental health issue, for that matter. Instead, we should always look to behavioral support and neuroscience.
There are many solutions out there for us, and a QEEG brain map can be the starting point. But more than anything, it’s important to gather information, do your research, and read books. Find a professional that you trust and do a deeper dive to better understand the reasons why your kid could be struggling besides ADHD.
Catch me again on other episodes to better help you, your kids, and your family!
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