ADHD and childhood trauma are often confusing to differentiate.
Are we misdiagnosing ADHD in children?
ADHD and childhood trauma are two separate conditions.
ADHD is a heritable brain disorder, and one in nine children in the USA or 6.4 million youth currently have a diagnosis of ADHD.
Many children from low socio-economic backgrounds, and who live in households and neighbourhoods where violence and chronic stress are common are being diagnosed with ADHD.
Lets look at the 3 classic signs of ADHD and how they can be misinterpreted for ADHD.
Hyperactivity, the inability to sit still for long periods of time; being constantly on the go ;may be the child’s hyper-vigilance to danger and trauma.
Impulsivity, the inability to modulate and regulate emotions ;may be brought on by the child being in stress overdrive. Traumatised children find it difficult to control their behaviour. They rapidly shift from one mood to the next.
Inattention, the inability to focus for long periods of time; could be mistaken for the dissociation associated with trauma. They may lose focus while anticipating the next violation of their safety.
To a well meaning teacher or psychiatrist these hildhood trauma behaviours can look a lot like ADHD.
Due to the similarity of the two conditions it is crucial to be evaluated by a qualified psychiatrist who has a deep understanding of the two conditions.
A previous version of the DCM; the diagnostic manual for ADHD urged clinicians to distinguish between ADHD symptoms in children from “inadequate, disorganised, or chaotic environments.” That caveat has unfortunately been taken out of the current diagnostic manual.
Few researchers have studied the overlap between ADHD and childhood stress in children.
Doctors need to look at the child from their perspective of curiosity not out of an attitude that they have seen it all.
Lets get these children who are suffering from real trauma the help that they need.