anxiety or ADHD?

When my young fella was young, he had a difficult time in school. He was, disorganized, unfocused, and squirmed in his seat. Was it anxiety or ADHD? Maybe neither.

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Note: I want to acknowledge that there are many people out there who have been battling ADHD and anxiety all their lives. Having worked with many in my career, I can say that I know every day is a challenge for them. This post chronicles my family’s experience and doesn’t reflect the experiences of others in similar scenarios.

When my young fellas was little, his mother, and I enrolled him in French Immersion for school. If you’re unfamiliar with what French Immersion, you may be wondering what the heck it is.

Well, it is exactly what the name applies. Essentially, the students are integrated into a core French curriculum for the entire year; every class from start of day to the finish, is taught in French.

Sounds a bit much right? Well, as it turns out, there is some really solid science behind the idea. The research indicates that learning another language when you’re young strengthens children’s cognition, their ability to listen, and improves their concentration.

The benefits of French Immersion.

I can’t lie – both his mother and I had our reservations. With that said, we also wanted to challenge our son’s learning while at the same time, helping him developmentally and give him an edge in his future.

Lastly, the classes for fulltime French were much smaller. I found this bit appealing. I reasoned that it gave him more of the teacher’s time. This in turn would help him learn the language. However, we would come to learn that the decision we made ended up not being what was best for him.

It’s true that it’s not for everyone, a fact that, in the case of our son, took us six years to uncover. Looking back, we should have seen it. Admittedly, my ex saw it before I did, but there were a few factors getting in the way.

In the first few years, we were, mainly myself, insistent that he stick to it. After all, no one likes a quitter. Thankfully we didn’t sick to this outdated philosophy when his school approached us and strongly suggested that we switch him over to English. For many years, for me, I was trying to decide what was a good amount of time to say he gave it his best shot.

With that said, when we took a look at his academic history, we understood that he needed more. What’s more, we were both worried that there may have been some underlying mental-health condition affecting his learning.

ways to help your children academically.

Indeed, as the years melted away from the first year to his sixth, there was good reason to suspect illness, maybe ADHD or anxiety? Something. As much as we wanted him to stay, we saw the signs: can’t sit still, difficulty concentrating, constantly forgetting things, and super-disorganized. One year it got so bad that we had to put a reminder list of what was expected of him and tape it to his desk.

Equally worrying was the rise in his behaviour. Thankfully it wasn’t a level-ten increase, but nonetheless, we were very concerned. As you can imagine, this prompted many meetings with his teachers over the years.

Fortunately, I have a background in counselling and have spent many years working with people with extreme behavioural difficulties. Therefore, I had tools at my disposal to help him through. Also, my finely-tuned observation skills made me think about all the factors making his time at school so difficult. For instance, at the time he was struggling with the break up of his mother and me. What impact was that having on his learning?

Anxiety or ADHD
Photo by Katerina Holmes on

Despite my background, nothing seemed to stick. We could tell that he was trying really hard, but he eventually fell back into his old patterns, a pattern that went on for years. Was it anxiety or ADHD? Maybe it was environmental? Perhaps something else.

Then finally, it happened.

In or about his grade five, my son’s mother and I were once again summoned into a meeting with his teachers. Of course, it came as no surprise to us as to why they called us to meet. However, this particular meeting had one distinct element that set it apart.

As the meeting progressed, we walked through the same-old same-old. “He doesn’t pay attention, he can’t sit still, he’s so disorganized” etc. Then it finally happened. One of his teachers suggested my son might have ADHD – a notion that I swiftly rejected.

Why? Because I had been wondering it myself. I rejected their claim not because I didn’t especially believe it, but rather, I had come to the conclusion that the symptoms could possibly be confused with anxiety. Therefore, it became my priority to figure out what was actually causing his difficulties. Sure, it could have been attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but it realistically wasn’t the only possibility.

Relationship between Anxiety and ADHD

Because anxiety and ADHD have some overlapping symptoms – disorganization, inability to sit still and lack of focus etc. – I wasn’t willing to go down the road of ADHD. Essentially, I felt that what was being observed left us with possibilities, not a stern and under-qualified conclusion.

While I’m not qualified myself to make a diagnosis of a mental-health condition, my own battle with anxiety, my years of working in the field of behaviour and my educational background, were all telling me he was anxious. I made it clear that this too should be considered.

Therefore, I felt it was imperative to continue to work with him and see. I was not about to have him put on powerful medications if we were wrong. Thankfully, they didn’t push after I nicely proposed other options; it could be something else. Because of the way things have tuned out, I will always be grateful that we advocated for him.


When grade six rolled around, and we decided that we would transfer him to English classes, my son’s years of struggle quickly became apparent. By the end of the first semester, he was turning a corner. His focus was much better, he was starting to get more organized, and he was not quite squirmy.

Much to our relief, he started to excel. In fact, he did so well in English, he won the “most- improved” student award in his final year of junior-high, his teacher noting that he was the most improved student in the English program. Now, in grade eleven, he is completely dedicated to his education; sitting in front of the class, he doesn’t concern himself with others, but places all his attention on his work assignments.

So, was it anxiety or ADHD? As it turns out, it was mostly environmental causing angst. Today, he shows little signs of either. He has healthy levels of anxiety and describes himself as happy, well-adjusted and goal driven. I shudder to think what his outcome would have been if we had chosen differently for him.

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The takeaway for me? Never run with a suggestion, and always go in armed with real knowledge. Educate yourself on disorders and most importantly, ask yourself: is what I’m seeing from my child “really what’s going on?” It could be a game-changer.

anxiety or ADHD

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Cover reveal

I am excited to announce that I will be revealing my First Book cover in mid January. Called The Road To Mental Wellness, it chronicles my lifelong battles with mental illness. It’s goal? To help others by telling my story…. Check back for updates.

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