Approximately 11 percent of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Are these diagnoses accurate?
We’re not buying it.
After all, kids don’t have the emotional capacity for coping with stress and big feelings. Especially with stressors that kids shouldn’t have to deal with in the first place.
Take a look at an excerpt from the diagnostic criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
Irritable or aggressive behavior
Self-destructive or reckless behavior
Exaggerated startle response
Problems in concentration
These symptoms could be easily mistaken for ADHD.
Are professionals distinguishing ADHD from trauma?
Are professionals digging deeper to find what may be underlying a child’s behavior?
Are professionals taking an in-depth look at the child’s life experiences, family dynamics, life stressors, and history prior to diagnosing?
Unfortunately, many times they are not.
ACEs and ADHD: Dr. Nicole M. Brown and Colleagues
In the ACE Study, it was found that almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one of five reported three or more ACEs. It is a fact that our kiddos have faced or are facing adversities whether we want to admit it or not.
Dr. Nicole M. Brown and her colleagues set out to explore the relationship between trauma and ADHD in their research, “Associations Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and ADHD: Analysis of the 2011 National Survey of Children’s Health.”
In over 65,000 children, 12 percent were diagnosed with ADHD. Of the children with ADHD, 17 percent had four or more ACEs compared to 6 percent of children without ADHD. Children dealing with four or more ACEs were almost three times more likely to use ADHD medications.
Our findings suggest that children with ADHD experience significantly higher rates of trauma than those without ADHD. Providers may focus on ADHD as the primary diagnosis and overlook the possible presence of a trauma history, which may impact treatment. We need to think more carefully about screening for trauma and designing a more trauma-informed treatment plan.
– Dr. Nicole M. Brown
In their coverage of Brown’s study, ACEs Too High cites Dr. Heather Forkey, a pediatrician at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, who specializes in treating foster children:
When speaking to traumatized children inappropriately diagnosed with ADHD, she offers them a reassuring explanation of their behavior. The body’s stress system, she says, developed long ago in response to life-or-death threats like a predatory tiger. The part of the brain that controls impulses, for example, shuts off so that survival instincts can prevail.
“What does that look like when you put that kid in a classroom?” Forkey asks. “When people don’t understand there’s been a tiger in your life, it looks a lot like ADHD to them.”
Effectively Treating Kids Misdiagnosed with ADHD
I know children who had severe ADHD and were on medication. After trying everything, their parents had them see a therapist who specializes in children who have been adopted. He “got it.” After a breakthrough in treatment, the children no longer had ADHD symptoms and were able to come off medication.
Diagnosis drives treatment. Misdiagnosis drives mistreatment. Professionals must assess for trauma in children presenting with ADHD symptoms.
Otherwise, families continue to receive ineffective treatment. Families remain misunderstood and their challenges perpetuate (and it’s costing us big time, too). Traditional approaches do not work for these kids and their families.
In most cases, they do not have ADHD.
A pill is not going to reach their aching, unique needs. Empathy will.
Start using effective approaches with your kiddos by attending our workshop!
Photo credit: John F. Reid Library