Help them relax. Teach them slow breathing exercises or find calming music they might like. Develop a positive mantra or affirmation that they can repeat: “I am safe” or “I am loved.”
Despite symptom overlap, there are real differences between ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the result of a traumatic event that causes brain changes (note: the majority of children exposed to trauma do not meet criteria for PTSD).
These behaviors can all look like symptoms of ADHD, and trauma may be overlooked by a clinician who’s in a hurry, or reluctant to ask parents whether a child has had a traumatic experience. But kids can also have both ADHD and trauma. And children with ADHD who experience trauma are more likely to develop PTSD than other kids, so should be monitored especially closely
- Trauma, Kids, and ADHD: Is There a Link
- Comparing ADHD and Trauma
- Is It ADHD or Trauma
- Trauma and ADHD: PTSD Questions and Answers
- Childhood Trauma and ADHD: A Complete Overview & Clinical Guidance
- How can you tell whether a child has ADHD or trauma?
- Video for “Trauma looks like adhd?”
- More pictures for “Trauma looks like adhd?”
Trauma, Kids, and ADHD: Is There a Link
Children with ADHD can be fidgety (always getting out of their seats), distracted (not paying attention to the teacher), and disruptive in class. Kids who have had a traumatic experience – or repeated exposure to violence or abuse – do some of the same things. They are unusually sensitive to signs of danger or threat, which can cause them to be jumpy and unable to settle down. They may see people as out to get them, so are prone to lashing out. They may also have intrusive thoughts about traumatic events they’ve experienced, and that can make kids look spacey and distracted.
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Comparing ADHD and Trauma
A clinician looking at all the symptoms a child is exhibiting would be able to identify behaviors of ADHD that distinguish it from trauma, and vice versa. For instance, notes Dr. Howard, kids who are hyperactive and impulsive have behaviors that don’t map with trauma: “Interrupting, excessive talkativeness, running down the hallway.” Having a variety of hyperactive and impulsive symptoms points to ADHD.
Take care of yourself. Parenting a child under this kind of stress isn’t easy. It can strain your relationships, with them or with other people. Sometimes families can feel isolated.
Is It ADHD or Trauma
The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude Expert Webinar “How Stress and Trauma Affect ADHD in Children of All Colors — and How to Heal the Wounds” by Nicole Brown, M.D., MPH, MHS, which was broadcast live on October 15, 2020.
Traumatic stress and ADHD affect the same areas of the brain, which can complicate ADHD symptoms assessments in children. Areas of overlap include:
That’s why, Dr. Mendel adds, a series of questions about traumatic events should be part of a standard evaluation for any mental health challenge. If it’s standard procedure, a family might be less likely to feel singled out by questions about possible trauma, she notes. “Asking those questions should be part of a diagnostic evaluation for any disorder. Look at the symptoms of depression, there’s some overlap with trauma. Look at symptoms of anxiety, there’s overlap with trauma. You always want to make sure that you have the full picture.”
Trauma and ADHD: PTSD Questions and Answers
For children with co-occurring ADHD and traumatic stress, treatment includes but is not limited to the following:
How do adverse experiences impact children with ADHD? Our research shows that children with ADHD across the board have higher rates of each ACE type compared to children without ADHD. 3 Our research also found the following:
That said, trauma can happen anywhere, to any child, and is often invisible to outsiders. “You don’t know if there’s domestic violence going on at home,” says Dr. Howard. “You don’t know if a child’s been in a terrible car accident.” As a clinician, she says, “You should always consider what’s happened to this child that might be causing them to behave this way.”
Childhood Trauma and ADHD: A Complete Overview & Clinical Guidance
Stay calm and be respectful. When your child seems overwhelmed, stay calm, and don’t raise your voice. Acknowledge their feelings. Be reassuring, but be honest, too. (Don’t make false promises, for example.) Never punish the child with physical discipline. Instead, set reasonable, clear limits, and reward good behavior.
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How can you tell whether a child has ADHD or trauma?
Clinicians must be aware of the traumatic stressors that children of color uniquely experience – namely, systemic and structural racism and concentrated poverty – that may worsen ADHD symptoms.
When kids have behavior and attention issues in school, the first explanation that comes to mind is often ADHD. But exposure to trauma can also cause symptoms that look like ADHD. And trauma is often overlooked when kids are misdiagnosed with ADHD.