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ADHD Weekly Newsletter
Disaster, Trauma, and ADHD
Join the discussion.
From natural disasters to human assaults, to protracted traumas such as war and violent neighborhoods, the psychological impact of adverse events to survivors can be serious and often lasting. This is
post-traumatic stress disorder
an anxiety disorder characterized by intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings, flashbacks or nightmares; depression, fear or anger; or detachment from other people.
Children are more affected by trauma than adults and the younger the child, the greater the impact.
“Psychological trauma can have detrimental effects on brain function that are not only lasting but that may alter patterns of subsequent neurodevelopment, particularly in children,”
say researchers Deborah A. Weber Loftis, PhD, and Cecil R. Reynolds, PhD
, of the Department of Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University.
PTSD and ADHD: Co-occurrence or overlapping symptoms?
There has been
a great deal of research
linking PTSD and ADHD.
found that a “lifetime prevalence of PTSD was significantly higher among adults with ADHD compared with controls;”
Another study conclude
d that the co-occurrence of the disorders “led to greater clinical severity regarding other psychiatric…and psychosocial dysfunction,” and that there is a strong familial relationship between them.
A third study
found an association with IQ in people who have co-occurring PTSD and ADHD.
Several studies have identified significant symptom overlap between the two disorders, and
that PTSD can become a developmental disorder.
Diagnosis and treatment can be challenged when considering
symptoms common to PTSD and ADHD
difficulty concentrating and learning
often doesn’t seem to listen
Coping with trauma
The ability of children to effectively cope with traumatic events and conditions depends not only on their specific coping behaviors but also on factors in the support environment.
can be either avoidant (anger, social withdrawal, blame) or active (cognitive restricting, which means to find a positive or realistic way to think about a bad situation).
Variations on these coping styles
can include overtly expressing feelings, wishful thinking, distractions, acceptance/resignation, seeking social support, and emotional numbing.
An effective coping environment includes support from family and social supports.
One study identified a direct relationship
between parents’ distress, maladaptive coping or corporal punishment (such as spanking), and their child’s risk for PTSD symptoms.
American Red Cross
and FEMA recommend returning to familiar routines as soon as possible to reduce the likelihood or severity of PTSD symptoms.
The degree to which community supports exist to provide shelter, food, clothing and other services were also f
ound to alleviate PTSD symptoms
in both children and adults. The need for such support is even more
important for low-income residents
, who were found to experience the most severe symptoms.
Mental health interventions after traumatic events
Children and adolescent survivors of major disasters who
receive psychological intervention
experience reduced or less severe symptoms of trauma than those who lack such care.
However, there has not been conclusive research that quantifies the degree to which contingent factors such as treatment modality (group vs. individual), providers’ training, timing of intervention, etc.,
. All the dependent variables such as the type of disaster or adverse event, degree of exposure to the event, duration of the event, demographic and cultural attributes, sequencing of intervention components, therapeutic approach, etc., have not been examined in a rigorous analysis.
What you can do:
Regardless of whether your home has been damaged or destroyed, and whether your family has been displaced or separated, provide a positive and supportive environment using active coping behaviors.
Resume familiar routines as soon as possible.
Seek therapeutic services as soon as possible
for yourself and for your family.
When ADHD is present, seek specialists who have expertise in both trauma and ADHD.
Be persistent in accessing basic services; read
Resources for Helping Your Family Cope with an Emergency
in this issue for tips and links.
Monitor yourself and your family for
behaviors that reflect trauma
Has your family experienced a traumatic event? How have you helped your children to weather the storm?
Children who survived Hurricane Katrina are showing the effects of trauma years later. The impact of traumatic events can persist long after the initial life-threatening danger―loss of home, possessions, food, neighborhood, school, friends, sometimes family―all of which continue as reminders of the original danger. How does trauma impact mental health―particularly in cases of ADHD, and what are ways to cope?
This article appeared in
September 07, 2017.
The information provided on this website was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number NU38DD005376 funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.