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ADHD or Trauma? Similarities and Differences

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

Adverse childhood experiences often shape our behaviour and emotional response to people and situations. Neurodevelopment also plays a part in our responses, and it can be confusing to differentiate if your behaviour results from trauma or ADHD or other spectrum disorder.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder usually diagnosed during childhood. However, there have been an increase in the number of adults seeking diagnosis for ADHD. People with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) share similarities with childhood trauma survivors in behaviour and coping mechanisms.

The symptoms found in both ADHD And trauma survivors include:

  • Difficulty in regulating emotion

  • Weak memory

  • Difficulty concentrating or sustaining attention

  • Hypersensitivity

  • Disrupted sleep patterns

  • Restlessness

  • Difficulty connecting with others

While there are similarities in the behaviour coping mechanism between ADHD and trauma survivors, it is essential to differentiate them when seeking treatment because ADHD is a neurobiological condition. In contrast, trauma is a mental, emotional, or physical response to distressing events, such as an accident, natural disaster, assault, abuse or neglect.

It is difficult to differentiate them without the help of a trauma-informed psychotherapist or psychiatrist. Still, one defining difference is trauma survivors often have intrusive thoughts related to fear, a sense of safety, and loss. They also sometimes have flashbacks relating to specific traumatic events. People with ADHD struggles with lack of motivation and feel overwhelmed by tasks.

The cause of ADHD varies, although genetics is one of the main contributing factors. Trauma is a physical, emotional and mental response to an event or a series of distressing events. Trauma significantly affects the survivor’s sense of safety, ability to regulate emotions, navigate relationships and daily functioning. When a person experience trauma, the brain becomes overwhelmed and disorganized, overstimulating the amygdala. Some trauma develops into symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD such as flashbacks, nightmares and dissociation.

Trauma does not cause ADHD. However, adverse traumatic experiences during childhood and complex PTSD may worsen the symptoms of ADHD. People with ADHD may become vulnerable to trauma., such as bullying and shaming. Some people with ADHD also struggle academically, leading to low self-esteem and high anxiety. If you or your children have experienced trauma or display symptoms of ADHD, you may consider seeking professional psychotherapy to help you cope with it. You may also consider consulting a psychiatrist for medication and diagnosis if you struggle with your daily task.

Restoring Peace Counselling and Consultancy offers counselling and psychotherapy services to help you cope with trauma, anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. For more information, please visit or WhatsApp at +65 8889 1848.

Keywords: Singapore, mental health, private mental health clinic, ADHD, trauma, anxiety, stress

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