It’s not ADHD!
Our recent Facebook poll showed that 67% of children first misdiagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and other developmental trauma diagnoses were first diagnosed with ADHD.
6 in 10 kids are being misdiagnosed with ADHD instead of RAD or other developmental trauma related disorders. Here’s what it matters:
- Stimulant medications typically given for ADHD can exacerbate other symptoms the child is experiencing.
- A misdiagnosis like this can cause significant delays in the child getting the treatment they need.
Keep in mind, kids with developmental trauma may have attention deficits and other symptoms of ADHD: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsivity. However, the ADHD diagnosis doesn’t correctly point to the cause of those symptoms – the trauma. ADHD is a chemical imbalance often successfully addressed with stimulant medications. These same symptoms from developmental trauma are caused by a brain injury and stimulant medications can exacerbate other symptoms of developmental trauma.
Here’s what parents are saying about how the misdiagnosis of ADHD impacted their child and family.
Our sons ADHD medicine amped him up causing extreme violent rages. He was arrested 3 times and faced felony assault charges from these rages. It wasnt until I was able to get a doctor to listen to me that he started to get better. His ADHD diagnosis and treatment made life hell at times. He is much better now and while we still have struggles, no one ends up arrested in the process.S.H.
I parented my child so incorrectly..,we lost so many years. Letting go of the guilt was hard, so trust me I understand!Katie
We went in completely unprepared for RAD [because of the initial ADHD misdiagnosis]. And it delayed getting a [correct] diagnosis and treatment by several years.Jesi
We lost three precious years chasing the wrong problem.Emily
Wrong medication for years, delayed us understanding how to cope with him. Still many professionals dont use the RAD diagnoses and always think ADHD when he can sit still and read for hours on end!Katalina
Too many stimulants which caused aggression and chaos at home and in school. Terrible situation which makes me angry and bitter.Karen
It’s how they minimized the problem, only mildly medicated him, and turned all the blame on us, because we apparently couldn’t manage basic behavior management. Mind you, this was social services AND a children’s hospital after an 11 day stay. Nor was it the last time. Still happening, only now he’s self-medicating with street drugs…Sarah
Why kids with developmental trauma get diagnosed with ADHD
- RAD and ADHD have many overlapping symptoms. With developmental trauma, kids can be hyperactive, have attention deficits, and other ADHD-type symptoms.
- Most kids are getting this early misdiagnosis from pediatricians who are very familiar the ADHD diagnosis, but not as well versed in RAD or developmental trauma.
- ADHD is a go-to diagnosis for kids who are struggling with hyperactivity and inattention school. It only requires diagnosis from a pediatrician and there are a number of medications that can be easily prescribed.
The difference between ADHD and RAD
While RAD and ADHD have overlapping symptoms, skilled clinicians can differentiate between the two. In a 2010 study by the University of Glasgow, researchers found these core items that point to a RAD diagnoses vs. ADHD.
- Does s/he preferentially seek comfort from strangers over those s/he is close to?
- Is s/he overly friendly with strangers?
- If you are in a new place, does X tend to wander away from you?
- How cuddly is s/he with people s/he does not know well?
- Does s/he ask very personal questions of strangers?
- Does s/he often stand or sit as if frozen?
- Is s/he a jumpy child?
- Is s/he wary or watchful even in the absence of literal threat?
- When you have been separated for a while (e.g. after an overnight apart), is it difficult to tell whether s/he will be friendly or unfriendly?)
While not all children with RAD will exhibit all these symptoms, they are not symptoms of ADHD. Asking these diagnostic questions can enable clinicians to differentiate between the two disorders.
Full information on this research study can be found here:
How to get the right diagnosis
It’s critical that a child gets the correct diagnosis so they can receive the treatment and medications they need without delay. Here are some steps you can take to ensure this happens for your child.
- Inform your pediatrician (and any other clinicians) about developmental trauma your child may have suffered. Be sure to use the term “developmental trauma” and that you are concerned your child’s brain development may have been impaired.
- Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a psychologist for a full psychological evaluation. A referral may be necessary for your health insurance and also enable you to get into see a psychologist sooner. If the pediatrician suggests trying ADHD medications first, remind him/her of your child’s background and respectfully insist on the referral.
- Be cautious about accepting prescriptions for stimulants for ADHD. See a psychiatrist for medication recommendations. Once your chid is stable on mediations usually a pediatrician will take over dispersing them for your convenience.
11 thoughts on “2/3 of kids with RAD are first misdiagnosed with ADHD”
I’m very curious…. Is there a difference between developmental trauma and RAD? I know that our daughter has trauma, but she doesn’t exhibit some of the destructive behavior that many children with RAD do.
Hi Kim. Attachment issues,the focus of the RAD diagnosis, is only one potential impact of developmental trauma. I liken developmental trauma to a big umbrella with lots of different symptoms beneath. Not only will any given child have only some of the symptoms, but those symptoms exist on a spectrum for mild to extreme. You might find this article helpful as well: https://raisingdevon.com/2019/05/26/an-introduction-to-developmental-trauma/