ADHD and Trauma; Similarities & Differences

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Overview:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodiverse disorder that affects your thinking, behavior, learning, how you react to certain situations, and how you complete your daily tasks.  Adolescents and teenagers are most affected, although it can also affect adults. Symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, inattentiveness, laziness, lack of focus, inability to concentrate, and inability to read directions or complete tasks. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has been connected to executive functioning issues and difficulties with sustained and divided attention.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is usually accompanied by concurrent mental disorders, making detection, diagnosis, and treatment difficult. ADHD affects 2.5 percent of the adult community and is linked to substantial personal and private distress. Above other comorbidities, ADHD can also cause trauma or vice versa. So, the main aim is to untangle symptoms and how somatic therapy can help patients heal psychological wounds by reconnecting the brain and body.

Relationship between ADHD and Trauma:

Living with ADHD and Trauma is like a spider web, where many strings are interconnected, and a single string is attached to many others. You pull one string, and everything collapses; the same is the relationship between ADHD and trauma; it is complex. Studies have shown that trauma and its symptoms can increase the chances of one being diagnosed with ADHD and increase its intensity and complexity, as many symptoms of trauma overlap with that of ADHD. The symptoms shared by ADHD and trauma may include concentration difficulty, poor memory, learning difficulty, hyperactivity, emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, problems connecting to others, substance abuse, and interrupted sleep.

ADHD and trauma present with similarities, and correctly diagnosing and treating them requires skill and experience. For example, poor memory is a hallmark of ADHD, but it can also result from the mind avoiding traumatic thoughts of that experience. The practitioners and patients must understand the difference between ADHD and trauma to manage them better.

ADHD is a brain disorder diagnosed mainly in children after they struggle to perform in school or later in their life, while trauma results from exposure to a stressful event or a traumatic experience. Childhood trauma, which occurs when the brain develops, results in psychological and emotional disturbances resembling ADHD. About 70% of adults report at least one traumatic experience in their life, which may be the death of a loved one, divorce, car accident, childhood trauma, or a natural disaster; all of these can lead to trauma symptoms like ADHD. Though trauma doesn’t have lasting effects, it can become chronic sometimes and can exhibit symptoms of nightmares, frightening flashbacks, avoidance of things, behavioral changes, and emotional dysregulation.

What are the differences?

Although there are many similarities between ADHD and trauma, some key differences need to be noted to distinguish them. A person, after experiencing trauma, has feelings of fear, helplessness, uncertainty, increased arousal, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, irritability, feelings of guilt, dissociation, continually feeling on alert for threat or danger, aggressive or destructive behavior, and self-destructive thoughts. At the same time, those with ADHD may present difficulty sustaining attention or concentration, struggling to follow instructions, organization difficulty, excessive talking, interrupting acts, and difficulty managing their behavior.

What could be done to manage these?

A better outcome depends upon the early identification and diagnosis of these difficulties. If you suspect your child is facing problems in managing behavior and concentration or is exposed to a stressful or traumatic event, seek help from a professional as soon as possible. If you have any questions or feel like your ADHD diagnosis is not entirely correct, raise your concerns and queries with your health professional or ADHD coach, as they are there to help you and your child.  Children with ADHD and Trauma need consistency, predictability, and discipline within their lives. The treatment options for ADHD include emotional adjustments, proper coaching, parent behavior management, strategies delivered in a group or individual setting, and stimulant medication in some instances. In contrast, those who have experienced trauma are managed by a psychologist who may utilize Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT) and anxiety management techniques. In some cases, sensory regulation activities and anti-arousal or anti-anxiety medications are also used.

References:

ADHD and Complex Trauma – Child Development Clinic

ADHD and Trauma: Causes, Symptoms, Somatic Therapy (additudemag.com)

Is It ADHD or Trauma? – Child Mind Institute

ADHD and Trauma in Children: Overview, Signs, Treatment (additudemag.com)

ADHD and Trauma: Similarities and Differences | Psych Central

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