ADHD vs. Childhood Trauma

In the United States, around six million children are diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Nearly two-thirds of those children also have other emotional, psychological, or behavioral disorders, and are more likely to have experienced childhood traumatic stress. Children who experienced childhood trauma are often diagnosed with ADHD. Many of the symptoms of childhood trauma and ADHD are the same, which makes it difficult to determine how to help the child.

What is Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma can be caused by many events in a child’s life, such as a serious injury, a life-threatening medical condition, parents’ divorce, the death of a loved one, living in poverty, bullying at school, witnessing violence, being in a car accident, or even a natural disaster. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, and neglect also cause trauma. These traumatic events cause physical changes in the child’s brain, and this affects their emotions and behavior. While children can recover from these events with the help of loving adults, when a child has experienced several of these traumatic events, they suffer from childhood traumatic stress.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a psychological disorder, which usually is first discovered when a child enters school. Children with ADHD have trouble focusing, are restless, impulsive, easily distracted, and often become disruptive in the classroom. Doctors have not yet determined exactly what causes ADHD, and believe it may be a combination of factors. But research has shown that children who have experienced childhood trauma are three times more likely to be on medications for ADHD.

What Symptoms of ADHD and Childhood Traumatic Stress Are the Same?

Many of the symptoms of ADHD and childhood trauma are the same. These symptoms include trouble concentrating, difficulty learning, restlessness, and hyperactivity. Children are disorganized, impulsive, easily distracted, and disruptive. They don’t listen or follow directions well, and they don’t sleep well. Their moods shift quickly, and they find it difficult to control their behavior.

Children with childhood trauma are often misdiagnosed with ADHD. They may be given medications for ADHD, but the medications don’t work. That’s why it’s so important to determine if a child has ADHD, childhood trauma stress, or both. It’s also important to develop a plan to help your child with either or both disorders.

Help for ADHD

Schools are generally good at helping parents recognize the symptoms of ADHD and developing academic plans to help children succeed in class. However, some students need more help than regular schools can provide. By the time they reach their teen years, some students still have not responded to ADHD medications or school adaptations. They continue to have trouble staying focused in class and completing their work, and they often get in trouble for being disruptive. It may be that they have suffered from childhood traumatic stress and need treatment for this problem, instead of, or in addition to, treatment for ADHD.

Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Your teen needs to be in therapy if you see signs of severe anxiety, depression, substance abuse, self-harming behaviors, violent behavior, or an inability to control their behavior or cope with their emotions. Your teen may be constantly in trouble with school or the law, rebellious, belligerent, and disrespectful at home. Sometimes it’s best for a teen to go to a therapeutic boarding school where they can get away from the things that trigger their trauma or influence their behavior.

Therapeutic boarding schools provide intensive therapy to help teens understand why they feel and act the way they do, and how to deal with those emotions and change those behaviors. These facilities also have accredited academic programs to help teens learn strategies for succeeding in school while they earn school credits. They teach teens how to develop healthy relationships with their family and their peers, and they offer physical and social activities.

While it’s difficult to determine if a teen suffers from ADHD, childhood traumatic stress, or both, a comprehensive therapy and academic program at Liahona Treatment Center may provide the help your teen needs to address both of these problems.

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