First, let’s break down what child traumatic stress is. This happens when children experience or witness some sort of traumatic event, such as serious injuries or serious automobile accidents, life-threatening disasters, violent acts against them, neglect or abandonment, the unexpected death of a loved one, and/or physical or sexual abuse. These experiences impact children’s brains, minds, and even behaviors. Children who experience childhood traumatic stress often develop symptoms that linger and impact their daily living even long after the traumatic event ends.
Children who experience trauma commonly experience a range of trauma symptoms, like feelings of fear or helplessness, feeling on edge, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, irritability, feelings of guilt or shame, out of body experiences, and/or reckless or aggressive behaviors.
Now, let’s break down what ADHD is. ADHD is commonly known as a neurobiological disorder that first begins in childhood. It impacts the brain areas in charge of controlling attention and behavior. Children with ADHD typically appear inattentive, impulsive, and/or hyperactive.
Children with ADHD often experience symptoms of their own, like trouble staying concentrated, trouble following directions, difficulty with organization, appearing fidgety, difficulty waiting or taking turns, excessive talking, interrupting others, and/or losing necessary things.
While ADHD and trauma appear to be two totally separate experiences, they actually have a lot of symptoms that overlap one another. Children who have experienced trauma, as well as children with ADHD both commonly experience trouble concentrating and learning at school, may be easily distracted, appear to have trouble with listening, may be disorganized, have trouble sleeping, and/or may appear hyperactive or restless. Both ADHD and child traumatic stress also commonly co-occur with other mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, or learning disabilities.
With so much overlap, this commonly causes a lot of questions about what the child might be experiencing and thus the appropriate treatment plan. Traumatic experiences in childhood can have such a big impact on development that these children often have problems in many areas of their lives after the traumatic event. Their symptoms may be complex, and given the overlap of symptoms, this often leads to multiple diagnoses or even potential misdiagnoses. This is why an in depth assessment and acknowledging the significant impact childhood trauma can have is so important. By identifying the correct problem a child is experiencing, this allows for proper treatment planning to best support the child and their family. After all, kids are extremely resilient and early intervention can make a tremendous difference!