October is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) awareness month. ADHD is an extremely relevant neurodevelopmental disorder in the lives of children, teens, and adults. As CASA volunteers, we see that there is certainly a high prevalence of ADHD in children; however, oftentimes trauma symptoms are mistakenly covered up with an ADHD diagnosis. Below, you can find more information on what ADHD is and the prevalence of ADHD in foster care children.
What is ADHD?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (2023b), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is “one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood,” and is typically diagnosed in childhood, lasting through adulthood. ADHD is so prevalent that, according to data from 2016-2019 from a national survey of parents, there are about 6 million children from the ages of 3-17 years old in the United States who have been diagnosed with ADHD (CDC, 2023a). Children with ADHD may have problems with controlling impulsive behaviors, staying focused, and/or having high amounts of energy (CDC, 2023b).
Signs and symptoms include:
- Obsessive amounts of daydreaming
- Forgetfulness or having problems with losing items
- Obsessive amounts of talking
- Taking risks that are not necessary, or making mistakes that are careless
- Impulsive and easily falls into temptations
- Has difficulty taking turns
- Has a hard time building relationships with peers
ADHD and Foster Care
Extensive research demonstrates the high prevalence of ADHD in children who are in the foster care system. According to the organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), children in foster care have three times the chance of being diagnosed with ADHD than other children (2018). Additionally, CHADD reports that nine out of ten children in the foster care system have experienced at least one traumatic event (2018). It is important to understand the intersection of trauma and ADHD, and how these symptoms can aggravate each other. Oftentimes, trauma responses can be mistaken for ADHD, or the child is struggling with both ADHD and trauma.
Statistics from 2016 emphasize the co-occurrence of ADHD and trauma for children living in foster care. CHADD reports that in 2016, more than 427,000 children were in the foster care system, with 53,549 of these children being adopted through public care agencies (2018). Furthermore, more than a quarter of these children were diagnosed with ADHD, and an estimated 90 percent of the children who were in foster care experienced a traumatic event (2018). Lisa Dominguez, LCSW-C, Director of Clinical Services for the Center for Adoption Support and Education, says “the ADHD is being treated and the trauma is not,” and “often the trauma piece is being missed” (CHADD, 2018). People see symptoms of trauma such as impulsivity, hypervigilance, and disassociation, and attach ADHD to these trauma symptoms, overlooking the trauma the child is experiencing.
This is why trauma-informed practice is so important when it comes to working with foster care children. Using a trauma-informed lens when working with children is important, so caseworkers and parents may better understand how ADHD and trauma are separate, how they can intertwine, and how to treat the trauma piece properly. Additionally, thorough assessments and treatment plans for children with trauma, ADHD, and other conditions are key in effectively helping a foster child who may have trauma and/or ADHD (CHADD, 2018).
You can visit https://insource.org/ for more information on services in Indiana for your child with special needs.
Written by: Skyler Neuhaus
CDC. (2023a, September 27). Data and statistics about ADHD. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html.
CDC. (2023b, September 27). What is ADHD? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html.
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (2018, May 8). Trauma and ADHD Co-Exist in foster children. CHADD. https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/trauma-and-adhd-co-exist-in-foster-children/.