Defining ADHD and Trauma

When you adopt a child, you adopt their trauma. It is absolutely true that attachment is healing, yet trauma causes negative brain changes and overall detrimental health outcomes. More often then not, your child gets diagnosed with ADHD, not with traumatic stress. As a parent, you must learn about the interaction of ADHD and trauma to best advocate for them. Along with your love and support, by defining ADHD and trauma, and their complex inter-connectedness, you can be your child’s finest champion.

What is ADHD exactly? ADHD is a brain-based disorder, runs in families, and impacts a child’s development and ability to learn. ADHD significantly impact a child’s behavior at home and at school. One in 20 children will be diagnosed with ADHD in their lifetime. Classic symptoms include impulsivity, hyperactivity, distractibility, poor concentration, racing thoughts, and emotional reactivity. Risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of ADHD include, premature birth or low birth weight, substance abuse during pregnancy, exposure to lead or pesticides in early childhood, the role of the family environment, and the presence of traumatic stress. Research indicates that the brain’s prefrontal cortex is impaired in people with ADHD.

What is trauma? Trauma includes exposure to stressful events and experiences. Trauma adversely effects the whole body: physical, emotional, social, and mental health. Symptoms of trauma include hyper-vigilance, irritability, difficulty concentrating and learning in school, easily distracted, agitation, disorganized, troubled sleeping, controlling behaviors, and disassociation or feelings or being outside of one’s body. Trauma adversely effects one’s prefrontal cortex. Depending on the child’s age, severity of the trauma, and existing protective factors, trauma is linked to poor outcomes in physical and mental health.

As you can see, the symptoms of ADHD and trauma overlap big time. ADHD and trauma both impact the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that manages our executive functioning which includes focusing, making decisions, and managing multi-step directions. Misdiagnoses is rampant. Both conditions usually occur along with other conditions like Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disabilities, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Traumatic stress worsens ADHD symptoms. Underneath ADHD is often trauma. The interconnection between ADHD and trauma is remarkable and quite complex.

Knowing about the connection and overlap between ADHD and trauma makes all the difference in assessing and treating ADHD and trauma. If your child has an ADHD diagnoses, takes meds, but something just doesn’t feel right and they are not responding to the meds, listen to your gut. Although ADHD and trauma may both be playing a part in your child’s life, a customized approach is the key to helping them live their best lives.

Read on for resources and treatment best practices.

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