Symptoms and responses following trauma or during chronic exposure to stress can look like many other disorders. Two of the most common diagnoses in the school setting for children of all ages are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). It is very common for trauma to be mistaken as ADHD or ODD, even by the most well respected and experienced educators. The differential diagnosis isn’t easy, but it is helpful to understand how and why this common mistake is made.
The differential diagnoses between trauma, ADHD, and ODD present significant challenges. First, there are several overlapping symptoms of PTSD, ADHD, and ODD. The diagnoses are not mutually exclusive, and there are currently significant assessment limitations.
This reality is terrifying and convicting for many educators. Often, it is the classroom teacher who first suggests the idea that a child may have ADHD, and this suggestion typically results from the child not “fitting into the box” of behavior expected of students in traditional learning environments. Uninformed educators, social workers, parents, and even medical professionals can quickly turn this suggestion into a misdiagnosis if they are not asking the right questions. In the end, a child who has experienced trauma and needs therapy may instead receive medication to treat a condition they do not have.
When children present salient symptoms that PTSD and ADHD share, begin to ask yourself: “Is it PTSD or ADHD? Both?” Unfortunately, this question is not an easy one to answer.
Learn more about overlapping symptomology in the eLearning course Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment and Differential Diagnosis:
To learn more about overlapping symptomology, or to make better decisions when diagnosing mental and behavioral health disorders, consider these offerings from Starr Commonwealth.