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childhood trauma

Every major event in our life affects how we deal with our lives, both currently and in the future. One of the most common mistakes some people make when self-diagnosing is mistaking developmental trauma for ADHD. This can lead to problematic situations along the way.

Trauma and ADHD can affect how you look into life and how you deal with people. While they have their similarities, they also have details that make them vastly different. Here’s everything you need to know about developmental trauma, ADHD, and how you can differentiate them from each other.

What is Developmental Trauma?

Developmental trauma, known as childhood trauma, are experiences that happen during a child’s formative years. They include not just physical and sexual abuse but also neglect, emotional abuse, and abandonment. 

These experiences are harmful to a child because they cause fear of the unknown, discomfort, shame, and distrust. These early life experiences can shape how the child copes with stress, affecting their ability to learn and interact with others. 

A traumatic experience is characterized by a sudden and unexplained change in an individual’s mood or behavior. These changes can be so drastic that it forces the individual to act out of character. This sudden change in a person can be caused by either major emotional or physical distress.

Developmental psychologists have determined that childhood traumatic experiences can lead to children’s psychological, physical, and behavioral problems. These problems can affect their lives and the way they handle different circumstances.

What is ADHD? 

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects how the brain works. It involves the part of the brain that controls attention, decision-making, and problem-solving. It affects a person’s ability to focus, pay attention, and behave appropriately. 

The most common symptoms of these conditions are inattentiveness, restlessness, impulsive acts, and difficulty paying attention. Children with ADHD are often described as “on the go” and have difficulty sitting still or focusing on tasks.  

The cause of this condition is unknown, although experts believe that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It is more common in males than females, and symptoms typically start around six years. 

This medical condition is hereditary and can also stem from head injuries, prenatal carbon monoxide, and brain injuries. Since it affects the brain, it can also lead to other medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities.

What’s The Relationship Between ADHD And Trauma?

The causal relationship between ADHD and developmental trauma so far is unclear. Many of the events in a child can affect how they grow in the future. There are times when people who have experienced a traumatic situation get misdiagnosed as having a form of ADHD. This is especially true for adolescents, children, and young adults who don’t correctly grasp who they are.

When the body releases stress hormones, it changes the way the brain functions, so some people who are traumatized or stressed are hyperactive or easily distracted. The constant release of hormones makes them unable to focus on anything.  

A person with a medical condition, on the other hand, has an imbalance in the chemicals that control their functions. They may not have experienced a distressing or difficult circumstance, but their body chemistry has malfunctioned. 

Why Is There So Much Overlap?

While both conditions have apparent differences, they can still have some overlapping characteristics. This is why it is confusing and frustrating for people with both disorders. 

Studies revealed that children with a history of abuse and neglect have a higher risk of having behavioral and mental health problems. This puts more pressure on the child to excel in school. It can also cause depression and anger issues. 

The study also revealed that when these children are exposed to stressful events, such as divorce, the death of a family member, or moving to a new place, their risk of having psychiatric and mood disorders increases.

Trauma causes confusion, agitation, and nervousness, mimicking the impulsive behaviors seen in kids with ADHD. In addition, the type of inattention that you might see manifesting in ADHD may likely be dissociative behavior found in people with developmental trauma.

Differences Between Trauma and ADHD

Now that you know the relationship between developmental trauma and ADHD, how can you differentiate them? How can you assess for learning disability or ADHD and know which one people have?

When it comes to either ADHD or developmental trauma, both can interfere with how you function at school, at home, and in the community. They can lead to similar problems in adulthood and affect both conditions, including impulsive behavior, low self-esteem, and risk-taking. 

Also, both can cause similar discrepancies in attention. Children with ADHD can have a hard time paying attention in class and completing their schoolwork. They also find it challenging to engage in activities that require focus and concentration. 

On the other hand, those with developmental trauma can have trouble sleeping or feel restless and unable to calm down. They may refuse to go to school, become anxious, or develop nightmares. Those with ADHD, however, have trouble with socialization but don’t truly pull back from people.

The truth is that those who are seriously looking to know which one they have may need a professional medical opinion. A qualified professional can prevent issues that can worsen the symptoms you experience.

What Can You Do About Childhood Trauma And ADHD

There is no need to suffer because you are uncertain if you have either of these two. Depending on the process you pick, you can quickly treat them or seek help from a specialist. There are various ways to proceed with treatment. 

There are support groups for both children and adults with developmental disabilities. These people can provide the support and advice that you need and even have various programs that you can join. 

If you have trouble understanding your diagnosis, you can also talk to your family members or friends. They can help you cope with your life and learn to live with your condition. 

You can also seek professional help. This can help you know what you can do to improve and move forward. Some programs can help you take control of your body and mind and handle your condition through therapy. They can also help you learn about your strengths and your weaknesses. 

The Bottom Line

There are many similarities between ADHD and trauma. However, there are also differences between the two. There is help available to you no matter what your situation is.

If you have trouble managing your daily life, especially if you suspect ADHD or trauma is the underlying cause, speak to a mental health professional. A treatment plan tailored to your needs will provide relief from your pain.

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