Hyper, or Hurting?
If a child acts inattentive and hyperactive in school, chances are very good he (it’s usually a boy) will be diagnosed with ADHD. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder affects an estimated 8-12 percent of children worldwide. The designation is so common it’s become a casual synonym for being scatterbrained (“I’m totally ADD today”), and its prevalence is self-propogating—the more people are aware of the disorder, the more likely they are to claim it as the cause of a problem.
Beyond the overdiagnosis of kids who are hyper but healthy, there’s a graver consequence to this attention-deficit bandwagon. A small but growing body of research confirms what is, so far, a little-known fact—that the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can look exactly like those of ADHD. In other words, a distractible, impulsive irritable child who looks to a teacher or caregiver like a classic ADHD case may actually be struggling to cope with abuse, divorce, natural disaster, or another serious trauma. It can be hard to tell the difference; in a 1994 study by researchers at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, trained interviewers assessed a group of troubled children and, not knowing the children were sexually abused, diagnosed 46 percent of them with ADHD.