ADHD and Traumatic Stress

Erin Sesemann, Therapist, Boone, NC

Dr. Erin Sesemann, PhD, LMFT, CBIS (she/her/hers) takes a holistic approach to counseling with her specialized training in Medical Family Therapy, EMDR therapy, and certification as a Brain Injury Specialist. Her office is based in Boone, North Carolina, offering in-person and online therapy to people across North Carolina.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) & Traumatic Stress

When considering Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (also called ADHD) in children, it is also important to consider if they are experiencing traumatic stress. The signs and symptoms of ADHD and traumatic stress overlap and can look very similar. There are important differences to consider in therapy when trying to help the child feel better and have fewer problems at home and school.


What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can present in three ways: (1) predominantly inattentive, (2) predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, or (3) combined inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive (read more from the CDC).

Adults might notice the following behaviors that are becoming problematic at home or for the kid’s academic achievement:

  • Daydreaming
  • Forgetting or losing things
  • Squirming and fidgeting
  • Talking too much and interrupting others
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Trouble taking or waiting for their turn
  • Difficulty getting along with others

What is Traumatic Stress?

Traumatic stress, on the other hand, is when there are psychological and physiological changes that occur after experiencing a traumatic event. A trauma can be different things, for example a natural disaster (hurricane, flood, tornado), witnessing or being a victim of abuse or violence, or experiencing an accident or medical procedures.

After the traumatic event, adults might notice the following behaviors that are becoming problematic at home or for the kid’s academic achievement (read more from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network):

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory lapses
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping or nightmares
  • Fear or anxiety




There is a lot of overlap in what ADHD and traumatic stress look like in children. Check out the image from National Child Traumatic Stress Network to learn more.


The National Child Traumatic Stress Network recommends modifying treatment plans for children with both ADHD and traumatic stress in order to address both issues. If you think your child might be struggling with ADHD and traumatic stress, then you can request an assessment and screening for both disorders. 

Your therapist will likely ask for a detailed medical history of the child and family, including if any other family members are diagnosed with ADHD and whether the child has experienced any highly stressful or traumatic events.


Therapy in Boone, NC

I strive to help families who have experienced trauma. If you are interested in discussing working together, please contact me today at 828-600-5051 to set up an initial phone/video consultation or access my online calendar from my homepage here

If you are still considering whether therapy is right for you or if you are not sure how to get started, then these other two blogs could be helpful to read: 

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