two boys on a toy bikeChildren with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have disproportionately high levels of experiences with traumatic events, according to new research. Children who experienced more trauma were more likely to use ADHD medication and to have more severe ADHD symptoms. The findings indicate that clinicians working with children who have or may have ADHD should consider screening for certain traumatic experiences and factor these issues into their treatment plans.

The researchers drew data from the 2011 National Survey of Children’s Health, selecting the records of 68,680 children aged six to 17 years. The records were chosen based on whether there were responses about ADHD (diagnosis, severity, or medication use) and whether there was information about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The nine ACEs included the death of a parent, discrimination, divorce, domestic violence, familial mental illness, incarceration, neighborhood violence, and substance abuse.

Approximately 12% of children from the sample were diagnosed with ADHD. The parents of children with ADHD reported a higher prevalence of ACEs than the parents of children without ADHD. More exposure to adverse experiences was correlated to higher levels of ADHD. Children coping with four or more ACEs were:

  • Nearly three times more likely to use ADHD medication compared to children with three or fewer ACEs.

  • More likely to have a parent rate their ADHD as severe.

  • More likely to have ADHD. Seventeen percent of children with ADHD had four or more ACEs, compared to six percent of children without ADHD.

“Knowledge about the prevalence and types of adverse experiences among children diagnosed with ADHD may guide efforts to address trauma in this population and improve ADHD screening, diagnostic accuracy and management,” explained lead author Dr. Nicole M. Brown, assistant professor of pediatrics, Division of General Pediatrics, The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.

This research was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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