Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are two of the most commonly confused and misdiagnosed disorders in children. And when they co-exist, things can get pretty dicey on the homefront.
Although we generally think that traumatic experiences are rare – especially in children – studies indicate that 7 out of 10 children will have been exposed to a potentially traumatic situation before they reach the age of 16. In spite of these numbers, only a fraction of the children who have experienced trauma are actually diagnosed with PTSD. While some are misdiagnosed with general anxiety, depression, or ADHD, many are never diagnosed and treated at all. Some examples of disturbing events are the loss of a family member, child and/or sexual abuse, a natural disaster, or a serious accident or illness.
Similarities between ADHD and PTSD:
The overlapping symptoms of ADHD and PTSD include: inattention, distraction, impulsiveness, difficulty focusing, hypervigilience, disassociation, irritability, and disruptive behavior.
For a detailed description of ADHD and other disorders it may mimic or overlap please read, “Misdiagnosing ADHD in Children.”
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:
PTSD is a paralyzing or numbing fear that happens after a child has witnessed or suffered a traumatic or life-threatening event. The severity of the PTSD depends more on how the child perceives the event, rather than the type of trauma. Other factors that can increase the chances a child will have PTSD after a disturbing event is how the parents react, and the child’s proximity to the trauma. Also, repeated exposure to the trauma will greatly increase the risk of having PTSD.
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:
- Agitation or Irritability
- Intense Fear
- Angry Outbursts
- Sad or Depressed
- Dissociation or Withdrawn
- Frequent nightmares
- Worries constantly about death
- Unable to focus or concentrate
- Problems falling or staying asleep
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Loss of interest in sports or activities
- Immature behavior such as whining or sucking their thumb
Treatment for PTSD:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective form of treatment for children. This can include relaxation techniques, play therapy, psychological first-aid crisis management, and other special treatments as needed. Parents and caregivers are taught coping skills and how to understand PTSD. Sometimes medication may also be needed to help the child deal with anxiety, depression, or agitation.
After a child starts on a treatment plan the PTSD symptoms can go away as early as a few months to a couple of years. However, without treatment the symptoms can last for many years and morph into other types of disorders and behaviors such as the abuse of drugs or alcohol.
The American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that once the trauma has occurred, early intervention is essential. A qualified mental health professional will be very helpful in diagnosing and successfully treating a child with PTSD so they can move on and live happy, productive lives.
If you suspect your child is suffering from ADHD and/or PTSD, please contact a mental health professional in your area to make sure they receive a proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.