Bipolar Children: Diagnosis du Jour or Could it be ADHD Instead?

(MIDDLETOWN, CT)- via Press Release – There is always a trendy way to explain a child’s misbehavior.  The popular diagnosis today is bipolar disorder.  Clinical Psychologist Dr. Robert Reynolds of Connecticut Educational Services in Middletown cautions that a quick jump to a bipolar diagnosis may exclude a more likely explanation for a child’s behavior such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

“One of the main problems is that parents take their child to a pediatrician who just isn’t equipped to do a comprehensive assessment,” said Dr. Reynolds.  “Because ADHD and bipolar disorder do share some symptoms and sometimes can co-exist, children can be put on a powerful concoction of drugs that may worsen a child’s condition.  In worst case situations, such as the one in Massachusetts that has recently been in the news, it can contribute to the death of the child!” 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is difficult to recognize and diagnose in children because it does not fit typical symptoms seen in adults.  In addition, there are no diagnostic criteria or treatment protocols for childhood bipolar disorder, so children as young as four years old can be put on mood stabilizers,  anti-psychotic medications or major tranquilizers when in fact, they could be suffering from something significantly less severe like ADHD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). 

Compounding this confusion is that these disorders share many characteristics including: impulsivity, inattention, hyperactivity, excessive physical energy, frequent behavioral and emotional changes, sleeplessness and learning problems. 

Dr. Reynolds notes that the main differences between bipolar disorder and ADHD are:

  • The origin of destructiveness- children who are ADHD often break things carelessly, whereas children who are bipolar break things on purpose and usually in anger.
  • The duration and intensity of angry outbursts and temper tantrums- children who are ADHD usually calm down within 20-30 minutes, whereas children who are bipolar may continue to feel and act angry for many hours.
  • The degree of regression during angry episodes is more severe for children with bipolar.
  • The trigger for temper tantrums- children who are ADHD are often triggered by sensory overstimulation, while children who are bipolar are often set off in reaction to limit setting and authority figures.
  • The moods of children who have ADHD or bipolar disorder may change quickly, but children with ADHD do not generally show signs of depression and irritability as much as their bipolar counterparts.

“Similarities and differences aside, you don’t want a child to be labeled with a serious mental disorder when it could simply be the normal storm of adolescence or an overwhelmed parent struggling to handle an overly rambunctious child,” said Dr. Reynolds. “At Connecticut Educational Services, our approach in treating various mental and behavioral problems has always been skills before pills.”

Dr. Reynolds emphasizes that his approach treats the “whole child”, providing parents, school personnel and the child skills and interventions necessary to bring behavior under better control.  “You can’t just give a child a pill and expect it to do the whole job,” he adds.  “Even when medications help, that is when treatment should begin, not end.” 

One of Dr. Reynolds’ most innovative and successful interventions in treating children with ADHD, ODD or bipolar symptoms is neurofeedback training.  Individuals with these mental or emotional challenges often exhibit irregular brain wave patterns in certain areas of their cortex (surface of the brain).  Once those problem areas are properly identified, Dr. Reynolds uses neurofeedback training to teach the child to regulate his brainwave activity in the targeted region through the use of game-like displays on a computer monitor.

“Simply stated, a child learns to control the activity of his brain to enhance mental conditioning and competence,” said Dr. Reynolds.  “For them, it is like playing a video game with their mind.  For parents, it can mean a dramatic improvement in their child’s behavior, emotional state and academic performance.”

Dr. Reynolds notes that EEG neurofeedback has been proven to help children with ADHD, bipolar disorder, autism and other learning and behavioral issues without the side effects that often accompany the use of medications.

About Dr. Reynolds

Dr. Reynolds has been on the leading edge of neurofeedback training since 1978 and was the first practice to offer the treatment in Connecticut.  As a result, his clinic has become an important resource in helping students, families, schools and individuals cope with attention, learning and behavior challenges across the lifespan.  Connecticut Educational Services utilizes the most advanced diagnostic and treatment techniques and provides all evaluations and treatments through highly trained licensed professionals.

Throughout the year, Dr. Reynolds provides free educational seminars for parents of children with mental health conditions, as well as in-service school training that focus on classroom behavior management. For a list of upcoming informational seminars or for more information, call Connecticut Educational Services at 860.343.0227 or visit

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