Did you know that mental health misdiagnoses in children happen often? This is because mental health conditions typically have few to no physical symptoms. Moreover, kids cannot express themselves, meaning it can be difficult to tell the doctor exactly how they feel. Limited pediatric experience among physicians may also be a contributing factor.

For these reasons, many mental health conditions in children are misdiagnosed, which can lead to years of unnecessary suffering and unsuccessful treatments. Read on to learn more about mental health misdiagnoses in children.

The Importance of Accurate Diagnoses in Kids

There can be numerous consequences if children are misdiagnosed. For example, kids must deal with physician appointments, treatments, and the side effects of medications for a condition they might not have. They could potentially take the wrong medication and experience stress and confusion because they are not getting relief from their true conditions. Moreover, they may grow up thinking they have a mental health disorder when they do not.

Children can also develop neurological issues or experience cognitive delays due to misdiagnoses. Meanwhile, a condition can worsen as a child waits for the treatment to work. He or she may also be left with permanent damage. 

Types of Misdiagnosed Mental Health Disorders in Children

Learn about the consequences of mental health misdiagnoses in children Discover how to prevent it and get the right diagnosis for your little one


Depression in children is common. Doctors may diagnose kids with depression for having symptoms such as sadness, decreased interest, fatigue, weight fluctuations, and difficulty concentrating. However, these symptoms can also be signs of other conditions, such as anxiety disorder, hypothyroidism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 


About one in 68 kids have autism. An autism diagnosis may be due to children exhibiting social communication problems, restricted speech, and restrictive and repetitive behaviors. However, other mental health disorders may share many of the same symptoms. These include anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

Additionally, a child may not have mental health disorder at all and instead have a speech impediment or age-related desire for a routine. A correct diagnosis is essential to get needed autism behavior therapy.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Kids 3 to 17 years old often get diagnosed with ADHD, especially if their symptoms include hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. However, the real cause of their symptoms may be due to other disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, dyslexia, or sensory processing disorder (SPD). Nonmedical causes may include a lack of a good night’s rest, normal age-appropriate behavior, or a delay in learning self-discipline. 

Learn about the consequences of mental health misdiagnoses in children Discover how to prevent it and get the right diagnosis for your little one

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

This mental health condition is often diagnosed in children and includes a pattern of defiance, hostility, and irritability toward parents, teachers, and other authority figures. About 1-16% of kids and young teens have this disorder. 

An oppositional defiant disorder diagnosis may be due to children displaying symptoms such as temper tantrums, outbursts, and disruptive behavior. However, the cause of these symptoms can also be caused by obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, or an undiagnosed learning disorder. 

How to Prevent a Misdiagnosis 

There are several steps parents can take to help prevent a mental health misdiagnosis in their little ones. For instance, they can give the doctor and treatment team as much information about their child’s health and symptoms as possible. This includes providing them with a complete family medical history. Parents may also want to consider getting a second opinion from a specialist who treats kids to determine an appropriate diagnosis. 

An accurate diagnosis in children is essential to avoid pursuing ineffective treatments and unnecessary side effects. In some cases, it could be lifesaving. To learn more about mental health misdiagnoses in children, see the accompanying resource by MySpectrum

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