When Trauma Looks Like ADHD


Anytime a child or adult is being evaluated for a mental health disorder such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, or anxiety; they should be assessed for trauma. No matter how seemingly insignificant an event or life circumstance may seem, trauma should not be overlooked. In recent years, a growing body of research has developed to examine the relationship between exposure to traumatic events in childhood and developing attention and hyperactive symptoms.

Disturbing & Stressful Events

Life long accumulative trauma such as a disturbing home environment with an absent or neglectful caregiver, life-threating medical condition of self or loved one, death of a loved one, divorce, poverty, domestic violence, bullying, a car accident, natural disaster, sexual abuse, burglary, physical abuse, witnessing a traumatic event, and so on.

Three Main Types of Trauma

Acute: one single incident Chronic: repeated and prolonged Complex: exposure to numerous stressor events

When Emotional & Physical Trauma is Masquerading as ADHD

Several researchers believe that symptoms of child traumatic stress could be mistaken for ADHD and that the risk of misdiagnosis is high. This is because there is an overlap between ADHD symptoms and the effects of experiencing trauma. In an article titled, “Is it ADHD or Child Traumatic Stress?” published by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, “unless symptoms are examined closely, the profiles of child traumatic stress and ADHD can appear to be similar.”

Symptoms that are nearly identical include:

- Anxiety

- Obsessive Thoughts & Behavior

- Defiance

- Confusion

- Mood Swings

- Memory Problems

- Trouble Concentrating

- Focusing Difficulty

- Learning Challenges

- Disorganization

- Distraction

- Fidgetiness

- Sleep Disturbances

Western Medicine Practice

Sadly, many allopathic doctors do not screen for most types of traumatic events. Nor do the pediatricians ask their young patients about what things might be going on at home. A patient is often prescribed medication by their doctor when complaining of the above symptoms. Symptoms are quickly masked; however, the core of the distress is often left untreated. And the patient may also experience side-effects from the medication.

Therapeutic Interventions & Tools to Reduce Stress, Improve Focus, Mood & Behavior:

Teach slow and deep breathing exercises to help the person relax.

Introduce calm music, yoga, and guided imagery and meditation.

Create routines such as bedtimes, and mealtimes to increase a feeling of predictability and security.

Help instill a feeling of control by allowing age-appropriate choices.

Find an Eastern Medicine Practitioner, such as an acupuncturist. Acupuncture appears to be a promising treatment option for anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and chronic pain. Consult with a homeopath. Homeopathy can be especially helpful for a variety of mental health symptoms and trauma. Sequential therapy refers to the treatment of specific shocks and traumas such as drugs, surgeries, and emotional traumas in a person's life using homeopathic remedies. Some remedies include Ignatia and Nat Mur for grief. Aconite, Stramonium, or Staphysagria after a traumatic event. Flower essences can also help someone through grief and trauma to help restore calm and emotional balance. Some flower essence remedies include Star of Bethlehem which helps to remove the trauma; White Chestnut helps clear repetitive intrusive thoughts. Elm is excellent for depression and anxiety and Rock Rose is helpful when you feel frozen in fear.

Get a massage or Reiki treatment. Commonly referred to as energy healing, Reiki is a spiritual healing art.

Seek out a skilled psychotherapist.

Some of My Favorite Therapies:

Trauma Focused Psychotherapy - Focusing on skill-building and distress tolerance strategies.


Biofeedback - A mind-body technique using visual or auditory feedback to gain control of breathing, heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) - EFT is a tapping technique similar to acupressure that is used to treat people with pain, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It helps restore the body’s energy balance.

Family Constellation Therapy - Created to uncover the source of chronic conditions, illnesses, and emotional difficulties that may have roots in the inter-generational family trauma. Family constellation therapy work focuses deeply on the ancestral family energetic blueprint – the family soul to help bring forth a resolution and profound healing.

Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) - Numerous research articles have established EMDR’s efficacy for emotional and physical trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And more recently, researchers are beginning to find EMDR to also be useful for those with on the autism spectrum. EMDR is a blend of psychotherapy and bilateral brain stimulation. It is highly successful in treating a range of mental health, intellectual, and developmental disorders when modified or adapted to the client’s developmental level of functioning. During this procedure, patients tend to “process” the memory in a way that leads to a peaceful resolution. And, often results in increased insight regarding both previously disturbing events and long-held negative thoughts about the self.

“EMDR induces a fundamental change in brain circuitry, similar to what happens in REM sleep. It allows the person undergoing treatment to more effectively process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain. This therapy helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of his or her life experience.” - Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

In a New York Times article Dr. Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., the originator of EMDR agrees. “Since the autism spectrum disorder population is acutely sensitive to environmental disruption, many everyday experiences can cause an emotional disturbance, including trauma symptoms. For instance, one child displayed a high level of post-traumatic stress symptoms after going to the dentist or getting bullied. While recent research has shown that overall life experiences can cause even more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder than major trauma in the general population, the susceptibility is even more problematic for those with autism. Reports of positive treatment effects with autism spectrum disorder include a loss of trauma symptoms, increased stability of mood, greater communication, and an increase in socialization.”

Looking to help your family overcome ADHD, autism, anxiety and more without medication? Get access to download my FREE eBook ‘Every Parent’s Starter Kit to a Healthy Family’ by signing up HERE.