Is it Trauma or ADHD?: Hi I’m new here... - CHADD's ADHD Pare...

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Is it Trauma or ADHD?


Hi I’m new here and have already learned so much by reading through so many posts, but I’m still feeling conflicted over how to help my almost 8 yr old son.

To give some quick background: my husband and I adopted our son from birth and started noticing concerning emotional behavior as young as 12 months. I believe that adoption trauma exists and happens in in utero and to infants. When I spoke to two pediatricians about this I was brushed off and told I was a nervous first time mom and that his behavior was normal. Fast forward to age 3.5 and his preschool teacher suggesting he get evaluated at school. They said he showed symptoms of SPD and hyperactivity. He was given an IEP plan. His behavior progressively got worse. He was being bullied every day and was soon becoming the bully. He was also sexually assaulted by an older child on the bus when he was in kindergarten. We notified the school since our son thankfully told us the day it happened. The school called CPS and the situation was handled by them beautifully but ever since then his behavior has become so much more difficult to handle. And on top of that he was falling behind in school so I took him out last year halfway through first grade to start homeschooling.

Our son has been in play therapy since he was 3. He’s always loved his therapists but we have never seen a change in his behavior. He gets violent, screams, bangs into things and people, throws himself on the floor, destroy his toys, scratches walls, mocks my husband and I, he’s triggered by the smallest physical pain, he laughs hysterically if we get frustrated with him, talks and makes mouth noises constantly, and has massive meltdowns anytime we ask him to clean up his toys. My husband and I feel so exhausted and defeated.

I have talked to his therapist a few times about getting him treatment for ADHD and she keeps telling me that he has trauma that presents itself as ADHD and that we need to get to the root cause of the trauma to help him and while I agree with that, I also know that his behavior is hurting his self perception and confidence. He’s now saying things like “I’m the worst, I ruin everything, what is wrong with me!!” His therapist also thinks that we should only use homeopathic treatments because she’s seen bad results from other patients on ADHD medications. But we’ve been doing homeopathic treatments on and off for years with no change.

At what point do I continue to let my son suffer instead of seeking other treatment options like medication? I have actually set up an appointment with a psychiatrist but that appointment isn’t for a few weeks

I feel good about this decision but I guess my question is if it’s truly trauma causing my son’s ADHD, is medication going to help or hurt him? Anyone else out there with children who have trauma and ADHD?

I realize I’ve written a novel here lol but any advice would be so greatly appreciated!

27 Replies

We are so glad you found this group. We welcome you with warm arms and big hugs...Here is what I have learned having a child with a variety of issue, including ADHD.

" if it's not working... it's not working".. I know that sounds simple, but it has been the best thing that has helped me while on this journey.

ADHD is a life long neuro-developmental disorder. I am so sorry he has already been through a lot no child deserves his pain.

In my opinion, you have done the best thing you can which is see a specialiat which can really help you. Psychiatrist's can help manage medication which is one of the tools that really change the lives of our children.

It is unclear from your messgae if you have done any medical assessments? It sounds like the school gave you some basic ideas about where he struggles. I am hoping you can seek medical assessments once you see the Psychiatrist.

Most children with ADHD benefit greatly from medication, thearpy ( he seems a bit old for play thearpy) and an educational plan, yes even if you are home schooling.

As far as medication, this is a process and finding the right type, dose and timing are imperative. When all that happens it is like magic. Medication doesn't cure all, but helps to reduce about %60 of unwanted symptoms and helps children be able to work on their behavior becuase it helps stop many symptoms. It may also take a few types of medication. It will make everything so much better for everyone.

For us we pushed until we got great results and it was working.

This is not an easy journey, but we are all in it together and help to help you along the way.

Thank you so much for your response!

I love that thought- if it isn’t working, it isn’t working!!! Yes. I’ve been feeling that for so long but felt held back by my own bias against medication and the opinions of so many others around me who were against it as well. I think there is a feeling of shame and failure around needing medication for my child and I’m trying to give myself a better view on the fact that I need to do everything I can to help my child.

Two questions if you don’t mind since I’m still trying to figure this all out:

1)Can the psychiatrist do an assessment or should I have that done elsewhere. I did call someone who I found through the CHADD database but their assessment evaluation cost was up to $2.6k!

2) would you suggest regular talk therapy since he’ll be 8 in June? Or do you think because of his delays with executive functioning that play therapy is still a good option?

Thank you again!!! Finding this group has brought me some hope!

If you had a child with vision issues you would... give them glasses. Or a child with diabete.. give inclin. I don't have the answer of the medical assessment, it depends on each medical dept. But they can start the ball rolling much quicker. They can give you a diagnosis ( which really is just another label of where he is right now and what is happening with him) which can lead to help with the right type of medication, dose and really important timing.

Our son never did play thearpy. He and I have always do thearpy together, which has worked best for us. I do not think the "stage" he is at now would prevent him from attending talk thearpy. Thearpy helps take the blame off you when you guys need to work on something.

Getting help as soon as you can ( its is all overwhelming) so deep breaths and one step at a time. Until then look over resources ( I love the Podcast Parenring ADHD. By Penny Williams) to learn how best to parent them are so many techniques and resources it's hard to get through.

We are always here for you...

Your son is so lucky to have you and your husband.. when you know it is working it will work.

Big hugs!

Thank you!! This is so helpful. I do feel overwhelmed and a bit lost right now but also the more I dig the more answers I’m finding and finally heading in the right direction.

I had never thought to do therapy together. That might be a good option since there is a lot of angst and anger in our home right now because of the behavioral struggles.

Thank you also for the podcast suggestion!

Hi. To answer your question about the assessment, a psychiatrist will do a medication assessment only. They will do a clinical interview to determine the most likely diagnosis, and, if you're interested, prescribe medication they think will be helpful. What you found through the CHADD database was likely a neuropsychological evaluation. These are wonderful and can provide very helpful information about how your child's brain works, as well as help with differential diagnosis (e.g., anxiety vs. ADHD), but they are very expensive. They typically include cognitive tests (IQ), psychological rating scales, and a clinical interview with the parents and child. They sometimes include academic testing, as well. Since he's on an IEP, he would've been evaluated through the school, so you probably already have some of this information through them (although the school can't diagnose things like ADHD). Hope that helps.

Thank you! This explanation really helps! It’s a bit confusing trying to figure out who can help you and with what

Of course. It IS confusing! I work in the field and have also done testing for my own kids, so if you have any other questions about it, I’m happy to try to help.

I'm so sorry for everything you and your son have been through. I think making the appointment with the psychiatrist is an excellent idea. The short answer to your question, Is it trauma or ADHD, is that it could be both. Trauma changes the brain. Even early childhood trauma can leave a lasting impact. ADHD medication may help, or it may not, but you won't know if you don't try, and it certainly sounds like you've tried many things already, and this is impacting his self-esteem. A good psychiatrist should be able to guide you here. As far as the therapy goes, he is not too old for play therapy. A highly verbal child of this age may be able to engage with some cognitive behavioral therapy techniques (modified for children of course), but it really depends on the child. TF-CBT (trauma-focused CBT) would also be appropriate for this age. However, regardless of the type of therapy, it should absolutely include you and your husband in the process (both in sessions, though not for the whole session, and through parent training). If your current therapist is not doing this, I would look for someone else (actually, either way you might want to look for someone else since if there has truly been no improvement over years). Family therapy may be helpful, as well. In the meantime, you can look into the Nurtured Heart Approach and see if it sounds like something that may help you: childrenssuccessfoundation....

Best wishes. I hope things start to turn around for you all soon.

Thank you so much for your response and help. I definitely agree that trauma can change the brain and I know for my son that the trauma began as early as when he was in birth mother’s womb.

I am really considering seeking a new therapist because of her view of ADHD treatment and the fact that I have to ask her to update me after their sessions but the only reason I hesitate is that my son absolutely loves her and it’s really triggering for his abandonment when people leave his life. I’ve had a talk with her (she is also trained in TF -CBT) this week and if things don’t change I’m going to seek out someone new. My son is actually highly verbal and very in touch with his feelings and how to express them so it may be time to switch to non play therapy.

I’m going to check out the Nurtured Heart Approach. Thanks!

Redpanda5 in reply to pugs4life

That makes sense that you would hesitate to seek a new therapist because of his abandonment issues. Maybe add a new therapist before ending with the previous one? A brief overlap may ease the transition? I haven’t dealt with trauma and ADHD but from your post it seems you mentioned trauma behavior before ADHD so indeed he may just have both. I strongly recommend the neuropsych testing (even though it’s expensive). You need a starting place and I personally found the testing gave me confidence because it was something concrete to hold onto. Second guessing yourself can make you go crazy. You’re doing the right thing by seeking more help. Medication could help him in a huge way and he is obviously distressed by his own behavior. Your sharing about him asking why he was behaving this way breaks my heart. He’s crying out for help and this is a good indicator that the current therapist isn’t helping him. Don’t give up.

pugs4life in reply to Redpanda5

The overlapping is a great idea for transitioning. Thank you! Yes I think we’re going to budget for the evaluation because you’re so right the second guessing myself is making me crazy and making me freeze instead of taking action

Maybe she’ll come around after you consult with a psychiatrist, but it doesn’t sound like she’s very open-minded, so moving on may be best. I can certainly understand your concern about terminating given his history, but if handled well, it can also be an opportunity for him to have a healthy experience of loss.

Hello! I recognize a lot of similarities in attributes/experiences you mentioned about your son. My son had early early trauma (born at 26 weeks and spent 3.5 months in the NICU) and ADHD so I wouldn’t be surprised if what you’re seeing has a little to do with both. Just wanted to drop in to let you know I finally gave in and started my son on medication in kindergarten and it changed my life (and his ). I worried about similar things as you , and saw it was affecting his self esteem as he was becoming more cognizant of his differences. I was burnt out, felt guilty and depleted all the time, and had tried every different “parenting strategy”. Mostly I could tell it was starting to put a strain on my relationship with him and caused me to feel a lot of anger and frustration with him I didn’t want to feel. I felt sick about starting him on medication so young and shed some tears feeling like a Failure as a mom. BUT I’m here to tell you it was the best decision I ever made ! It improved the way he felt about himself , the way he communicates and forms relationships with others , the way I felt toward HIM , his success in school , etc etc etc . I know every child is different so I could never tell you for certainty medication is the answer for your son, but it definitely was for mine. Sometimes the brain needs help to function the correct way, just as any other regular prescription medication helps the body to do it’s job properly. Hang in there, those years of figuring things are are so hard but it does get better !!

pugs4life in reply to erick1822

Thank you so much!!! It gives me so much hope that you were able to find medication that helped your son. I think aside from his self esteem issues I’m also so worried about my relationship with him. I’m feeling so much resentment towards him lately which then pushes the mom guilt and shame to the forefront. My son is so incredible but lately it’s been so much harder to remember that. And I know that we need more help to get through this.

Hi, you’ve got to do what you think is right for your child, even if other people think you’re wrong! It’s hard because you sound so tired and that impacts on your decision making. I have a daughter who is adopted and has adhd. She also has attachment disorder and SPD. We have treated both - for the attachment disorder we had some therapy called DDP which made our relationship much stronger. We also got a diagnosis of adhd and she is medicated during the day and has melatonin at night which has given her structure and a routine. I didn’t know that children with adhd didn’t produce melatonin, so always had trouble sleeping. We are in the UK so things are a bit different, but from what I’ve read attachment disorder and adhd can present similarly, so it’s difficult to untangle. I don’t think that trauma can cause the adhd because is a neurological condition - has he got any birth siblings and do they have it? It can run in families.

Don’t feel that you have to home educate because your son’s behaviour is challenging at school - maybe he just needs a different school with experience of adhd and adoption.

Remember that life with non neuro typical children is like being on a plane - you need to fit your own oxygen mask before you do theirs! Take care x

pugs4life in reply to MrsD2

Thank you! So glad to have another adoptive mom here! Yes. So exhausted and it doesn’t help that I have chronic illness and with covid it’s been so much harder to do the things I need to take care of myself to then be better able to take care of my son. I’m so glad I found this group. Feeling not so alone anymore and way more hopeful

My daughter is adopted. She is now a successful woman but has trouble with anxiety still. We had her on medication and therapy throughout her teens. She did not stabilize until her 20's. Her birth mother was an addict but probably dealing with her own anxiety/ADHD by self medicating. Her 2 oldest have ADHD/anxiety disorder. They grew up in my stable home. Trauma does cause problems, my daughter had a rough first couple of years, but her kids inherited some of her problems.

From my experience therapy helps, the boys are in it. But it is not a complete fix, just a tool to help with the medication.

pugs4life in reply to anirush

Thank you! Same here for my son. I know his birth mother was depressed while pregnant with him and smoking weed. He also has four older birth siblings and one had to be institutionalized and put on antipsychotics. I’ve also been told by his birth mother that his birth father struggled a lot as a child. so on top of adoption trauma and the sexual assault, there’s also inherited trauma and behavioral/neurological issues for my son

My son was also adopted at birth. His therapist specializes in adoption trauma and although she has said that it may have something to do with his behaviors, of which at least some are like you described, he also has ADHD which we finally looked into getting diagnosed in third grade because he was falling behind in school. She feels that ADHD left untreated will severely impact his self esteem. When you feel bad about yourself you may seek out ways down the road to feel better, perhaps self medicating down the road. I do not think your decision to seek additional therapies is a bad one. YOU are the expert on what is going on with your son and like the previous poster said, if it's not working, it's not working. You know.I definitely understand how you feel about being a failure, but you're doing the best you can and doing the best for him. Keep it up, you'll figure it out!

pugs4life in reply to skysoblue

Thank you so much. It’s so wonderful knowing there are other adoptive parents here!!! Seeing his self esteem tank in the last six months as been the catalyst for me. He’s a sensitive child and feels things so deeply and his putting all of this on himself. I don’t want him to suffer needlessly

I have two children adopted at birth. My daughter has been challenging from the start and Ive considered trauma as a component but I also know enough about her birth family now and her issues seem in line with theirs. Biology can still over rule nurture. wE spent years dealing with Naturepath, psychology, psychiatry, and OT but ultimately went to the Amen clinic. I will say that was the best money we spent. they identified her needing the same supplements as our ND but then put her on a medication that no other doctor would have chosen because it was off label. the psychiatrist told me that the new medication was "like water" and wouldn't do anything. My daughter said "finally, something that makes me feel better". Worth every penny and I wish we had gone sooner.

vwoolf75 in reply to kkbug

Curious as to what the supplement is.

kkbug in reply to vwoolf75

they put her on Neurontin

pugs4life in reply to kkbug

Yes. Nurture can only impact so much biology definitely plays a large role! Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m so glad you found something that really worked for your daughter. I’m going to look at that clinic. I’ve never heard of it.

Wow, sounds just like our daughter, she’s 10 and we’ve had her since 3. She was born to an addict and was homeless the first three years of her life. School has been an epic fail she’s now in the most restrictive environment, we finally broke down and had a neuropsychologist assess her, she has ADHD and intermittent explosive disorder, been on meds adderall ER since COVID which has helped with concentration, not sure what will happen when school starts. We also did PCIT parent child interaction therapy which was very beneficial for us, not sure if that’s available in your area. She refuses to do talk therapy. Good luck, I would really advocate for that assessment!

What the therapist is doing is not working so it’s time to try something new. When a child is in such obvious distress, you must treat the distress. There are many many medications that will help with emotional regulation that are not adhd medication. We also went the homeopathic route because our son was so young but in K we received a real wake up call when he said “I should just kill myself”. Emotional pain is real pain and must be addressed. Also we found that once we have better emotional regulation with medication, other therapies were much more effective. Good luck. It is so hard to make these choices.

I would like to start by commending you on supporting your child by researching and reaching out for input on what others have experienced as far as therapies/medications.Do not be discouraged!!

I agree with a parent, you know what to do and what is right for your matter what.

My child was misdiagnosed and strong armed into stimulant turned out very badly.

My child is diagnosed with ASD, ADHD, and NVLD. Every day is a challenge. However, celebrate those good, happy moments. Do not let the professionals trick you into focusing only on the negative and most of all...listen to your gut and listen to your child...I am a big believer that your child will tell you what they need...usually by action and later with words.

Take care and keep the faith :)

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