Toxic Stress versus ADHD In Children, pt 2

What is toxic stress? How is it different from other types of stress? Welcome, as we continue to investigate the oft misdiagnosis of ADHD when trauma is the culprit of unwanted behaviors and subpar academic performance.

Types Of Stress

Positive Stress:

“A positive stress response is a normal stress response and is essential for the growth and development of a child. Positive stress responses are infrequent, short-lived, and mild. The child is supported through this stressful event with strong social and emotional buffers such as reassurance and parental protection. The child gains motivation and resilience from every positive stress response, and the biochemical reactions that occur with such a stressful event return to baseline [5]. Examples include meeting new people or learning a new task.” [1]

Tolerable Stress: “Tolerable stress responses are more severe, frequent or sustained. The body responds to a greater degree, and these biochemical responses have the potential to negatively affect brain architecture. Examples include divorce or the death of a loved one. In tolerable stress responses, once the adversity is removed, the brain and organs recover fully given the condition that the child is protected with responsive relationships and strong social and emotional support.” [2]

Toxic Stress: “Toxic stress results in prolonged activation of the stress response, with a failure of the body to recover fully. It differs from a normal stress response in that there is a lack of caregiver support, reassurance, or emotional attachments. The insufficient caretaker support prevents the buffering of the stress response or the return of the body to baseline function. Examples of toxic stress include abuse, neglect, extreme poverty, violence, household dysfunction, and food scarcity. Caretakers with substance abuse or mental health conditions also predispose a child to a toxic stress response. Exposure to less severe yet chronic, ongoing daily stressors can also be toxic to children [14]. Early life toxic stressors increase one’s vulnerability to maladaptive health outcomes such as an unhealthy lifestyle, socioeconomic inequity, and poor health; however, these stressors do not solely predict or determine an adult’s behavior or health [10,14].” [3]

This study by the National Institute of Health beautifully describes the different types of stress and the consequence of that stress. Often, resiliency is built with healthy stress, our bodies recover and our brains aren’t affected at all. Toxic stress is unattended, caretakers fail to protect, and there are long term consequences including lower IQ, failure to thrive, and a host of physical issues. Early intervention is crucial and recognizing unhealthy attachment styles can help mitigate damage to the developing brain. Toxic stress trauma mimics ADHD and therefore misdiagnosis lead to medicated but not treated children.

How does toxic stress mimic ADHD? We will explore further in tomorrow’s post.

As always, I will never stop fighting for those who can’t and therefore, I remain humbled for this platform, because I truly believe, when we know better, we do better.

Attachment Styles is an important concept to explore here, we covered those in this podcast episode with LMFT, Eric Cuni

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