When Trauma is Misdiagnosed as ADHD in… | Center for Growth Therapy

When Trauma is Misdiagnosed as ADHD in Children

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Has your child been a little more rambunctious than usual? Many are quick to slap on an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis to a hyperactive child, but sometimes this diagnosis doesn’t capture the true underlying causes. If a loved one is showing a change in behavior, it could be that they survived, or witnessed, a traumatic experience.

It is scary as a parent or guardian to think that your child could have been involved in an upsetting event that was out of your control. If a child is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it often presents as the same behaviors as an ADHD diagnosis. Beware, if a child is misdiagnosed and treated medically or therapeutic in this way, the treatment will not work, all while hindering the process of healing from trauma.

While we always encourage parents to trust a professional diagnosis, we want to encourage you to take a little extra time to do some sleuthing to ensure that no stone is left unturned. Trauma and ADHD can present the same way, with symptoms such as:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inattention
  • Distraction
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Restlessness
  • Impatience
  • Avoidance of activities
  • Mood swings
  • Impulsiveness
  • Anger/ Aggression
  • Sleeping problems
  • Poor memory
  • Poor concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Shame

The way to know the difference is in the history.

Trauma can be defined as a distressing event, whether being involved or observing the experience. These incidents can include accidents, injuries, or more serious circumstances such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. If a child is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, the experience (whether reoccurring or not) may trigger symptoms, which is the child’s way of processing the trauma. Symptoms may include re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of anything that is a reminder of the trauma, emotional numbness, depression, anxiety, out of place sexual behavior, poor self-esteem, hyper arousal and attentiveness, social withdrawal, irritability, aggressive behavior, temper tantrums, and lack of focus.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder on the other hand, is a life-long condition that affects a person’s inability to focus, often resulting in hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors. Early indicators of an emerging ADHD diagnosis can be seen as young as age 1. It is important to focus on the present and identify the symptoms, which may include the aforementioned hyperactivity, lack of focus, and impulsiveness, as well as fidgeting, interrupting, trouble controlling their emotions, irritability, depression, anxiety, aggressive behavior, impatience, low self-esteem, forgetfulness, daydreaming, boredom, and struggling to complete tasks.

If a child and/or loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to create a comfortable space for them to express their feelings. The best way to begin the healing work as a parent is add some quality time to your daily routines. Cooking together, help with homework, read a bedtime story, and driving to after-school activities are all simple ways to open the lines of communication and begin the process of seeking the proper care your loved one needs.

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