ADHD is a common diagnosis among children. Prevalence rates range from 3 to 7 percent of children. Due to ADHD being a widely known diagnosis other causes of inattention or hyperactivity can be overlooked. While learning disabilities and ADHD are often diagnosed together, it is possible for a child to be struggling with only a learning disability which leads to the child not paying attention or checking out in class due to not understanding the material being presented. It is important to rule out depression as a differential diagnosis because depression can include difficulty concentrating which can look like the inattention in ADHD. Another important diagnosis to look for when a child presents with inattention and hyperactivity is trauma.
Peter Levine discusses how the hyperarousal and hypervigilance of trauma can look like the inattention and hyperactivity of ADHD. In trauma the child is constantly looking for danger or threats in his or her environment and is therefore distracted. Children who have a trauma history also have difficulty paying attention to the here and now because they may often be thinking about the traumatic event(s). Children who have been traumatized may also have difficulty regulating their behaviors and emotions which can look like the impulsivity or hyperactivity of ADHD.