Survey Results: RAD misdiagnosed as ADHD

ADHD Survey

March 18, 2019


Anecdotal evidence indicates that many children ultimately diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) are first diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This may be due to the overlap in symptoms and because the ADHD is typically diagnosed by a pediatrician who has little familiarity with developmental trauma and RAD.

Developmental trauma can cause common symptoms of ADHD including inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. However, ADHD is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. The same symptoms can manifest in the case of developmental trauma due to 1) A heightened fight-or flight response, 2) Underdeveloped or impaired brain functions. Unlike with ADHD, these symptoms are caused by an underlying brain injury and the treatment is different. 

The mis-diagnoses of ADHD is harmful to children and their families because it causes a delay in the child receiving the treatment they need. In addition, stimulant medications can exacerbate the symptoms of developmental trauma. 

The University of Glasgow study, “Discrimination between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and reactive attachment disorder in school aged children” provides instructive conclusions on how to differentiate between the two disorders.


The purpose of this survey was to investigate how frequently children ultimately diagnosed with RAD are first misdiagnosed with ADHD. 

Summary Key Findings

Over 2/3 of children diagnosed with RAD are first diagnosed with ADHD.

  • 67% of children studied received the ADHD diagnosis before being diagnosed with RAD or other Developmental Trauma diagnoses.

Detailed Findings


212 people responded to the survey.

Survey Questions YesNo
Were your kids diagnosed with ADHD before getting a diagnosis of RAD/PTSD, etc?  67%33%

Freeform responses

(Edited for grammar and clarity)

  • 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 wasn’t 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.
  • I parented my child so incorrectly…we lost so many years. Letting go of the guilt was hard, so trust me I understand!
  • 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.
  • We lost three precious years chasing the wrong problem.
  • Wrong medication for years, delayed us understanding how to cope with him. Still many professionals don’t use the RAD diagnoses and always think ADHD when he can sit still and read for hours on end!
  • Too many stimulants which caused aggression and chaos at home and in school. Terrible situation which makes me angry and bitter.
  • 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…


The survey was configured in Facebook and shared on the @RaisingDevon page. The automatic survey settings allow one response per Facebook user. 

The survey opened on March 11, 2019 and closed on March 17, 2019. 

The link to the survey was posted in two private online parenting groups:

Attach Families Support Group

Number of Members: 241

Focus: For parents of children with developmental trauma

The Underground World of RAD

Number Members: 868

Focus: For parents of children diagnosed with RAD

It was shared to individual Facebook pages and groups by participants. 

Respondents were asked to add comments to the survey post. It was noted that these responses may be edited for grammar and clarity.

To be noted: 

  1. One response per person does not account for families who have multiple children with RAD.
  2. One response per person does not account for families who have multiple children with RAD where they did not all receive the ADHD diagnosis.
  3. Some children may have ADHD and RAD. It is possible to have both so in some cases it may not be a mis-diagnosis, but a co-morbid diagnosis.