Distinguishing Between ADHD and Past Trauma

June 7, 2018
Julie Carbray

In this occasional feature on Psych Congress Network, members of the Psych Congress Steering Committee answer questions asked by audience members at Psych Congress meetings.

QUESTION: How do you tell the difference between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and past trauma?

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ANSWER: This can be most difficult if suspected trauma is the case, rather than known trauma. If the trauma is known, then a timeline of the onset of ADHD-like symptoms juxtaposed with the trauma event can help. If the trauma history is unclear, but suspected, getting more information about the suspected trauma and potential timeline is important.

With the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, you can have both ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the clinician can then target treatments for both, which can cause significant functional impairment alone or in combination with each other. The bottom line is that a good assessment of trauma in any child is important, but timeline and functional impairments can offer the best evidence for the potential source of symptoms, leading to diagnosis

— Julie Carbray, PhD, FPMHNP, PMHCNS, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Nursing and Administrative Director, Pediatric Mood Disorder Program, University of Illinois at Chicago​


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