Determining exactly what is underneath the behaviors of concern is key in the ADHD/trauma dance. Depending on the answer, treatment looks different. For each child, an individualized intervention is imperative. As parents there are several factors to consider.
Diagnoses, diagnoses, diagnoses. When figuring out what is really going on, one must turn to a practitioner who is not only fluent in ADHD, but trauma too. Each treatment is different. In fact, some studies indicate that stimulants make ADHD behavior worse if these behaviors are caused by trauma. Not all pediatricians have trauma training and this is the typical professional we turn to to figure out if it is ADHD. Additionally, most pediatricians do not use the classic trauma screening tool, called the ACES, when working with families who are concerned about ADHD behaviors.
First step then is getting yourself educated about the effects trauma can have on your child’s behaviors. Making sure you have a complete history of your child’s early days/years and their prenatal history, before you adopted them, is paramount. If there is a trauma history, no matter how small, this needs to be considered. And then you advocate, advocate, advocate!
The most effective strategy incorporates a team approach with trauma informed, child development, and ADHD professionals. It may take longer and be harder but it is worth it. One of the reasons it is important to have a team of specialists is that often there are other mental health issues muddying the waters for children who show ADHD behaviors and have also experienced early trauma. These may include depression, anxiety, learning disabilities and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The complexity of symptoms and how they show themselves often leads to multiple diagnoses and unfortunately misdiagnoses.
Moving forward and persevering towards the most effective treatment is crucial and the sooner the better. Research shows that left unidentified and untreated, a child with ADHD tends to experience more serious consequences including academic performance, depression, conduct issues, relationship concerns, and substance abuse. Of course, the same is true for untreated childhood trauma. Unfortunately if we, as parents, ignore that our children experienced traumatic stress, their development, ability to learn, self-regulation skills, and overall relationship with the world will be deleteriously effected. Ultimately they will not feel safe in their world.
The good news is that if your child has ADHD and experienced trauma, treating one will help with the other. It’s all connected. And remember that you have a wonderful child who will most likely respond best to many different kinds of treatment. You must treat the whole child. This is referred to as a Multimodal approach. What this means is yoga, mindfulness techniques, and other body therapies are used along with traditional medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Remember you know your child best. Guide the doctors. If something just doesn’t seem right, speak up. The future is bright. Even with complicated and overlapping symptoms, your child has strength, resiliency, and your support to move forward. Advocate for your child and help them to be their best self!