Could Overexcitement Be a Sign of Other Issues Besides ADHD?

By Child Mind Institute, Understood Founding Partner

Could overexuberance be a sign of other conditions besides ADHD?

Sometimes kids have so much energy, you wish they had an “off” switch.

Some kids seem physically unstoppable. They’re running, climbing, jumping, getting into everything. Or their exuberance might be more emotional: excitement and determination to do or get whatever they’re interested in.

Whether a child is considered overexuberant often depends on parents. People vary a lot in what kind of behavior they expect from children. How can you figure out whether your child is outside the typical range? One way is to compare his behavior with that of other kids his age. Or discuss it with a teacher, pediatrician or some other professional who sees lots of kids.

The most common explanation for behavior that might seem overexuberant is ADHD. Its symptoms include hyperactivity (the need to keep moving) and impulsiveness (the tendency to act without thinking about consequences).

If you suspect that your child might have ADHD, consider this whole list of impulsive/hyperactive symptoms:

  • Fidgeting or squirming, trouble staying in one place
  • Restlessness, jumping from one activity to another
  • Excessive running and climbing
  • Trouble playing quietly
  • Extreme impatience, difficulty waiting his turn
  • Excessive talking or interrupting, blurting out answers

To be diagnosed with ADHD, your child would have to display these symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity consistently, over time and in several different settings, such as at home and at school, too.

But kids can have trouble regulating their emotions for other reasons besides ADHD.

Anxiety: Children who seem excessive in their moods can have unrecognized anxiety. If your child is very anxious, he may have a hard time coping with situations that distress him. Things that make him anxious might trigger a “fight or flight” response. This can look like impulsive behavior.

Trauma: What seems like wild or excessive behavior swings can also be the result of trauma, neglect or chaos at home. Most at risk, says Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a Harvard Medical School professor who specializes in mental health care in a school setting, are kids with ADHD who’ve also experienced trauma.

Sensory processing issues: Some kids seem to have trouble handling the information received by their senses. Kids with sensory processing issues experience too much or too little stimulation through these senses. This can cause overexuberant behavior as well as meltdowns. Kids who are oversensitive might cover their ears to avoid noises and get upset over bright lights. But if a child is undersensitive to sensory stimuli, he may crave stimulation. He may:

  • Have a constant need to touch people or textures
  • Not understand his own strength
  • Be fidgety and unable to sit still
  • Love jumping, bumping and crashing activities
  • Crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement
  • Love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines

Bipolar disorder: When a child seems to have excessive highs and lows, another thing doctors wonder about is bipolar disorder. Is his overexuberance a form of mania, and his irritability a form of depression?

Bipolar disorder is a condition in which episodes of depressed behavior alternate with episodes of manic behavior. That’s why it’s also known as manic-depressive disorder.

But Ron Steingard, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute, notes that mania and being overexcited aren’t the same thing. “Mania is a profound state change, in which a person doesn’t sleep, his thoughts are racing, his speech is pressured, he’s grandiose,” explains Dr. Steingard. “It’s not a child who’s laughing too much or acting silly too much.” Signs of mania include:

  • Excitability
  • Exaggerated self-confidence
  • Inflated sense of his abilities
  • More talkative than usual
  • Racing thoughts
  • Recklessness
  • Poor judgment
  • Sleeping much less than usual

A manic episode lasts for four or more days. Children who have ADHD or anxiety are more likely to have short-term mood swings. They shift from exuberant to irritable within the same day.

ADHD is a common childhood disorder, as is anxiety. But bipolar disorder is rare in preteens. It tends to develop in a person’s late teens or early adulthood.

Is your child’s overexuberance making it difficult for him to do things appropriate for kids his age? Is it causing stress to him and your family? Then it is essential to get a good diagnostic evaluation. There is a lot of overlap among symptoms, and a child can have more than one condition present. So it’s important to see a mental health professional trained and experienced in treating these types of issues.

Once you get a better idea of what’s going on with your child, you can get down to the business of helping him feel comfortable in his own skin and reach his full potential.

About the Author

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Child Mind Institute, Understood Founding Partner

The Child Mind Institute is dedicated to transforming mental health care for children everywhere.

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