Question: Why do little kids get diagnosed with ADHD or ADD before the possibility of bi-polar? -Kaitlyn F., Woodhaven, NY
Answer: Diagnosis of mental illnesses is almost entirely based on a person exhibiting a particular set of thoughts and behaviors or in clinical jargon “symptoms” that indicate the diagnosis. ADHD and bipolar disorder share several symptoms including hyper-activity, short attention span, and lack of impulse control. Since ADHD is much more common than bipolar disorder in children (about 4 cases of ADHD for every 1 of bipolar disorder), sometimes a clinician can mistakenly diagnose ADHD when in fact it is bipolar disorder. Interestingly, recent research has shown that it is very common for children with bipolar disorder to also have ADHD.
You raise an important but difficult question. ADHD and bipolar disorder have commonalities that sometimes confuse professionals. However, the treatment courses for each are very different. This makes the need for accurate diagnosis that much more important.