Kids Exposed to Traumatic Experiences Misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit

Children who have traumatic childhoods are at a high risk for learning and behavior problems, as well as health difficulties such as obesity, according to a new study from Stanford University. However, by overlooking their trauma, doctors and other professionals often misdiagnose them and give them the wrong treatments.

Dr. Victor Carrion, a Stanford professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, studied 700 children from communities where violence is common, and found that if they experienced four types of trauma, they were 30 times more likely to have learning and behavioral problems and twice as likely to be obese. Dr. Carrion asked the children about nine kinds of trauma, such as having a mentally ill or incarcerated parent, living in a one-parent household, having family members that abuse alcohol or drugs, observing violence in the home, and so forth, and then he and his team studied the children’s medical records.

In communities where there is violence, where children are exposed to events such as shootings in their neighborhoods, kids experience a constant environmental threat,” Dr. Carrion said. “Contrary to some people’s belief, these children don’t get used to trauma. These events remain stressful and impact children’s physiology.”

Previous studies showed that 30% of children from violent neighborhoods suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Dr. Carrion believes that traumatized children are often wrongly treated for attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity. Children with post-traumatic stress syndrome can appear irritable, angry, and overly sensitive to their environments, which can also be symptoms for ADHD. The problem is the two disorders have opposite treatments. Stimulants help ADHD, and psychotherapy helps PTSS.

“Children can recover from PTSD with the appropriate treatment, which is one of approach and not avoidance,” Carrion said. “By not asking about trauma, we’re utilizing avoidance. We’re perpetuating PTSD.”

This study was published in Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal.