Signs of undiagnosed ADHD, anxiety & learning disorders in kids

Written by: Matthew Hefferon

Many parents have questions about their child’s behaviors, feelings, thoughts and academic progress. You may have asked yourself many times, Is this normal? Will my child just grow out of it? Children have robust and complex emotional worlds and they can suffer from emotional and neurodevelopmental illnesses just like adults. Here is a list of a few things to pay attention to if you are concerned about your child:   

Your gut feeling
The most significant, reliable and valid warning sign for an underlying psychological issue with a child is the gut feeling of his or her parent. Since your child was born, you have been an overt and covert learner of your child’s behaviors, feelings and thoughts. As such, you have more knowledge about him than anyone. Suspicions that your child is falling behind, struggling in school, having trouble making friends or not behaving in a typical way are extremely valuable and important. If you suspect something, it’s okay to vocalize this suspicion and seek professional guidance. Many parents feel fearful and shamed that they are suspicious about their child’s development, but it does not make you a helicopter parent, truly. You are an in-tune and loving parent. If you are worried, please reach out. Psychologists like me are here to help.

Homework refusal
A child who refuses to complete and turn in her homework is by definition a child who is struggling developmentally. Many times these children are labeled as lazy or undisciplined. I encourage all parents to reject the myth of a child being “lazy” and instead explore why their child refuses or heavily resists homework compliance. Children with learning impairments often develop avoidant behaviors because their work is too hard, but they feel a sense of isolation, anxiety and embarrassment so they avoid the thing that makes them feel bad. Children with attention impairments also struggle to focus and may avoid homework participation due to the very real stress they feel when trying to complete it.  Lastly, children with anxiety or persistent depression are highly avoidant of homework as they struggle to summon the emotional resources necessary for its completion.

Behavior problems at school
While many children will have some behavioral management problems at school from time to time, frequent calls from teachers and other caretakers is a strong correlation to neurodevelopmental problems. Children who act out at school are often struggling emotionally and cognitively but do not have adequate coping skills and resources to manage. These children can be labeled as problematic or “bad,” but once again I encourage parents to reject these labels as so many children who act out have very real undiagnosed cognitive issues that need empathy, acceptance and guidance. Undiagnosed children who are overpunished at school often only get worse in their behaviors.

Behavior problems at home
Children with underlying feelings of sadness, anxiety, attention problems or learning impairments will often manifest their struggles in bouts of extended tantrums, defiant behaviors, antagonism and aggression. Angry outbursts are not uncommon and many children have them, but frequent outbursts, violence and acts of consistent defiance are a sign of a child who is struggling to cope. It is not uncommon for children with behavior problems to be labeled as “bad” or “defiant,” but many of these children are suffering quietly from learning impairments and/or emotional disturbances.

Please know that if you have a suspicion that something isn’t right it’s important to seek guidance. In my experience, a parent’s gut instinct is the most reliable test in the world.

Dr. Matthew William Hefferon, Psy.D is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Pediatric Neuropsychologist at Comprehensive Neuropsychology Services in Lakeview. He offers child, adolescent, adult, couples, and family counseling along with psychological testing and school advocacy. 

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The NPN blog gives voice to our members' thoughts about parenting in the city, and the views expressed don't necessarily reflect our own. Want to write for us? Email with your topic ideas.


Posted on March 23, 2017 at 1:00 PM