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Are Hard Times and Adversity More Difficult for Children with ADHD?

Interview with Joel Nigg, PhD is the author of the scientifically book Getting AHead of ADHD.

Trauma, Adversity and Children with ADHD

What is the relationship between adversity and ADHD? Is adversity more difficult for children with ADHD?

We talk about this as a triple whammy.

One, children with ADHD are more likely to have traumatic or upsetting experiences (due to impulsivity, poor judgment, inattention, or other causes).

Two, children with ADHD are more sensitive than other children to these experiences when they occur. Children with ADHD are more likely to develop PTSD from an emotional trauma or to be upset by a disturbing event even if not at the level of an emotional trauma.

Three, children with ADHD often lack the coping skills to overcome the distress when it occurs.

At a social level, children and families under conditions of social adversity are more likely to experience ADHD symptoms. Perhaps as a response to the high stress. It is important in clinical care that stress response/trauma response/ADHD not be confused. The appropriate treatment and counseling are not the same.

What are some techniques parents and children can do to ameliorate the impact of adversity on children with ADHD?

To help children with ADHD, you can:

  • reframe the problem,
  • offer support, and
  • teach coping skills that you would use.

Exercise is also very effective at helping recover from stress and trauma. Animal studies show epigenetic changes (changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression) in response to stress that appear to be reversed by regular exercise.

What words of hope can you offer parents of children with ADHD in coping with adversity and trauma?

If you stay involved and caring toward your child, they can make it and do fine. Many children with ADHD do very well and family support is a key component.

Donít give up, stay hopeful, find what works for you, knowing ADHD is not a one-size fits all condition but takes many forms and that you have to do what is right for your particular situation.


Joel NiggPhD is the author of the scientifically book Getting AHead of ADHD. He is a Professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Director, Division of Psychology at Oregon Health and Science University.

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