Children’s behaviors associated with both ADHD and trauma can look similar, that is why it is important to identify anxiety and ADHD in children and separate the two. As a child therapist working in a school-based setting I often had teachers and parents ask me: “What is going on with little Jane or Jose? Is it ADHD? Is it anxiety?” and “How do I stop them from doing THAT?” THAT can be a lot different behaviors including:
- low frustration tolerance
- easy to tantrum
- constant talking
- constant fidgeting
- leaving the classroom
- running in the halls
- school work/homework/chore avoidance
- too long in the bathroom
- hard to get up in the morning
- hard to get out the door for school,
- “spaced out”-not listening
- angry, moody, hostile with peers,
- defiant to authority,
- constant worrying…and more
These symptoms can be unsettling for a parent or a teacher and most especially for the child. Getting help can be the first step to better understanding and supporting a child in need. However, correctly diagnosing and treating the cause of the symptoms, whether ADHD or trauma, is of the utmost importance.
Does My Child Have ADHD?
Adults – parents, teachers, and yes, therapists too – can be quick to assume that a child has ADHD (or ADD). If we are too quick to label a child as having ADHD we may be overlooking trauma and the effects of trauma on children. We live in a society that favors this diagnosis because there are well established medications to “treat” ADHD. Wouldn’t it be easy and wonderful if a magic pill (like a stimulant) could solve all our child’s problems and make their disruptive behaviors melt away? Though some children need and benefit from medication it is not my professional experience that ADHD medication resolves the symptoms in their entirety.
Identify Traumatic Events
When a child is acting up or out it is not always ADHD. The symptoms may be trauma related. And the caregiver(s) may not even be aware that the child has had an experience or experiences that were perceived as threatening enough to cause symptoms. This lack of awareness is why a thorough assessment as to the root causes are an important piece in understanding what’s going on with the child.
Many of us identify trauma to be the “big T” traumatic events including death of a parent, sexual assault, abuse, bullying at school, experiencing a natural disaster like a home fire or hurricane Sandy, war, or community violence. However, life adjustments or scary events can be traumatic and overwhelming for children such as:
- getting lost at an amusement park
- watching a scary movie
- being haunted by a recurring nightmare
- new school
- new home
- parents divorcing
- loss of the family pet
Whether a child is dealing with ADHD symptoms, anxiety from a traumatic experience, or they simply are experiencing symptoms related to a life adjustment getting help can be an important first step.
All behavior in children (positive behaviors or more negative: acting out, disruptive, or defiant behaviors) are attempting to tell us something. With inquiry in a safe space, children and families can begin to make sense of what’s happening and how best to manage, shift, and support a struggling child. The more we can understand the complexities of trauma in children as well as the nuances of a good ADHD diagnosis in children the better we can be in supporting kids as they learn, grown, and play.
Alternative Therapy For ADHD in Children
Are you frustrated with the idea of medication? Have you tried other things that aren’t working? Is your child symptomatic? Acting out at home or School? Trouble focusing? Loosing things? Shutting down? Feeling overwhelmed?
CBT and/or TFCBT might benefit you, your child, and family greatly. At our NYC location we offer both CBT Therapy and also Neurofeedback training which is a brain training that can help with boosting your child’s self-esteem and help with behaviors. This is in particular helpful for children age 6-17.
What Is CBT?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidence based approach to talk therapy that works well with children and teens. Developed by Aaron Beck and used for decades to effectively treat ADHD, anxiety, depression and more.
What Is TFCBT?
Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidence based approach to therapy to treat trauma in children with the support of a safe caregiver.
Please get in touch with us directly if you have questions about cognetive therapy, neurofeedback session or home system rentals. Contact Alison here.
Learn more about ADHD in Children:
- What is The Best Therapy for ADHD? What Are My Choices?
- Best Brain Foods for Kids – What to Avoid and What Contribute to Brain Health
Alison Pepper is a Certified NeurOptimal Neurofeedback Trainer and a Therapist with over five years of experience working with English and Spanish speaking clients. She treats children and families who may be adjusting to life changes or dealing with mental health issues; with an emphasis on trauma informed work. If interested in therapy or a neurofeedback session, contact Alison here.