There are many forms of anxiety (such as Generalized Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, Social Anxiety), anxiety-related disorders (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and mood disorders (Major Depression, Dysthymia, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, Bipolar Disorder). Many people are aware of common symptoms of these, such as racing thoughts, avoidant fears, or loss of interest in activities. But many people are not aware that these disorders can also lead to some noticeable cognitive declines, and these can mimic other issues.
For example, significant anxiety can make it hard to focus on reading or tests, making someone question an ADHD diagnosis or a learning disorder. Anxiety can also lead to avoidance of new activities or people and to rigidity as a person tries to control their environment; this can mimic an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In depression, people sometimes feel slower than usual, and this might mislead someone into questioning a developmentally slow processing speed. All of these questions underscore the need for a careful and thorough evaluation to guide accurate treatment.
When we conduct evaluations, we always keep anxiety and mood disorders in mind as we work through cognitive data. We will measure intellectual functioning, executive function skills, memory, and visuomotor skills, and we will screen academic skills, to make sure there isn’t an unrecognized problem. Then, our focus on gathering information from parents and significant others and on measuring emotional and personality symptoms and traits help us to differentiate the effects of anxiety and mood disorders from the effects of other issues. Understanding the bidirectional interplay among anxiety and mood disorders and cognitive skills will help us tease apart the best routes for treatment.