On Your Mind: High energy kid or ADHD?

on your mindDear Tom,

My 5-year-old son is very high-energy and has always been “on the go.” I always thought this was normal for boys this age. But lately I’ve had a few people ask me if he is ADHD. I dismissed the comments as rude, but last week my son’s Sunday School teacher asked me the same thing. She is also a school teacher and I value her opinion, so now I’m starting to worry. She says he just can’t sit still and focus, even for 20 minutes. He is an only child so I really don’t have any point of comparison if his ability to focus is normal or not, but it really bothers me when people assume there is something wrong with him. What should I do?

Dear Mom,

You ask an excellent question and one which occurs frequently and crosses the minds of many, many parents who have an active, high-energy child. The question or suggestion that an active boy always “on the go” may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is very common. You often hear of family doctors, school nurses, teachers, family members, neighbors, and others suggesting that an active child has ADHD. There are a few things to keep in mind before assuming those suggestions are correct.

First, ADHD overlaps quite a bit with anxiety, adjustment, or changes in mood. A five-year-old child may be going through some significant changes, like starting school, beginning peer or friend relationships, learning or testing his boundaries with his parents, or comparing himself to other children (especially since he is an only child). All of these things could overlap or be contributing to behavior that looks like ADHD.

The second thing to look for is whether your son’s active, high-energy behavior is consistent over time in different structured environments. Is he acting this way at school, Sunday school, during structured playtime, mealtime, or during any other structured environment or activity? It’s important to watch how he behaves in structured settings compared to other kids his age.

The third thing to consider is whether his behavior is leading to chronic problems in day-to-day life, like frequent discipline at school, frequent time-outs, poor relationships with kids his age, and/or regular conflict and discipline at home.

If you see other active, “on-the-go” behavior in several structured environments over time and/or your son is having chronic problems in daily functioning, then find a professional who is trained in diagnosing and treating ADHD. That may be a licensed professional counselor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Good luck to you and your son.


Tom Petrizzo serves as CEO of Ozark Guidance and has degrees in social work and law. You can reach Ozark Guidance at 479-750-2020. Tom has spent the last 20 years managing non-profit centers in Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Arkansas. He has also served as adjunct faculty at the social work graduate program at three large universities. He’s married to Teri Classick, a licensed clinical social worker, and they have two daughters. When he’s not at work, Tom likes to jog, bike ride, read and he even belted out the National Anthem lately at a Northwest Arkansas Naturals Game!

Tom would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback. Tom will be back each month to answer another woman’s question.

Disclaimer:  This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.

1 Comment

  1. I would add that the parent should also make sure her son is TESTED. Don’t let anyone, regardless of their qualifications, tell them that they can diagnose the child simply by chatting with them for 30 minutes. That is what a “counselor” did to us and I was too uneducated about the syndrome at the time to know that there was a battery of questionnaires that should have been filled out, and there should have been more counseling done to find the true issues at play in my daughter. She doesn’t have ADHD, and was improperly medicated for a couple of years before we finally figured out that was not the problem.

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