When Trauma is Misdiagnosed as ADHD in Children

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

Has your child been a little more rambunctious than usual? Many are quick to

slap on an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis to a hyperactive

child, but sometimes this diagnosis doesn’t capture the true underlying causes. If a

loved one is showing a change in behavior, it could be that they survived, or witnessed,

a traumatic experience. 


It is scary as a parent or guardian to think that your child could have been

involved in an upsetting event that was out of your control. If a child is suffering from

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it often presents as the same behaviors as an

ADHD diagnosis. Beware, if a child is misdiagnosed and treated medically or

therapeutic in this way, the treatment will not work, all while hindering the process of

healing from trauma

While we always encourage parents to trust a professional diagnosis, we want to

encourage you to take a little extra time to do some sleuthing to ensure that no stone is

left unturned. Trauma and ADHD can present the same way, with symptoms such as:

  • Hyperactivity
  •  Inattention
  •  Distraction
  •  Disruptive behavior
  •  Restlessness
  •  Impatience
  •  Avoidance of activities
  •  Mood swings
  •  Impulsiveness
  •  Anger/ Aggression
  •  Sleeping problems
  •  Poor memory
  •  Poor concentration
  •  Anxiety
  •  Depression
  •  Low self-esteem
  •  Shame

The way to know the difference is in the history.


Trauma can be defined as a distressing event, whether being involved or

observing the experience. These incidents can include accidents, injuries, or more

serious circumstances such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. If a child is

suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, the experience (whether

reoccurring or not) may trigger symptoms, which is the child’s way of processing the

trauma. Symptoms may include re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks,

nightmares, avoidance of anything that is a reminder of the trauma, emotional

numbness, depression, anxiety, out of place sexual behavior, poor self-esteem, hyper

arousal and attentiveness, social withdrawal, irritability, aggressive behavior, temper

tantrums, and lack of focus.


Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder on the other hand, is a life-long condition

that affects a person’s inability to focus, often resulting in hyperactivity and impulsive

behaviors. Early indicators of an emerging ADHD diagnosis can be seen as young as

age 1. It is important to focus on the present and identify the symptoms, which may

include the aforementioned hyperactivity, lack of focus, and impulsiveness, as well as

fidgeting, interrupting, trouble controlling their emotions, irritability, depression, anxiety,

aggressive behavior, impatience, low self-esteem, forgetfulness, daydreaming,

boredom, and struggling to complete tasks.


If a child and/or loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is

important to create a comfortable space for them to express their feelings. The best way

to begin the healing work as a parent is add some quality time to your daily routines.

Cooking together, help with homework, read a bedtime story, and driving to after-school activities are all

simple ways to open the lines of communication and begin the process of seeking the

proper care your loved one needs.