A.D.H.D. Diagnoses On The Rise: Overdue or Overuse?

Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.), according to new data from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled by the New York Times and reported in a recent article found here. The data indicated that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 41 percent rise in the past decade. A.D.H.D. is described by most experts as resulting from abnormal chemical levels in the brain that impair a person’s impulse control and attention skills. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. However, experts note that extended use of these drugs can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.

The numbers of children diagnosed with A.D.H.D. is likely to rise even higher because the American Psychiatric Association plans to change the definition of A.D.H.D. to allow more people to receive the diagnosis and treatment. While some doctors view the increase in diagnoses and the move to expand the definition as an indication that the illness is being more readily recognized and treated, other doctors are concerned that even at current levels, the diagnosis is being made and drugs are being prescribed too hastily, and it will only get worse. Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine notes in the NY Times article , “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.” C.D.C. director, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden agreed. “We need to ensure balance,” Dr. Frieden said. “The right medications for A.D.H.D., given to the right people, can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate.” Moreover, doctors note, some parents are pressuring doctors to help with their children’s troublesome behavior and slipping grades. “There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal — if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk — that’s pathological, instead of just childhood,” said Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Certainly the far greater number of boys than girls being diagnosed would support this notion.

On the other hand, however, many of us know children who have been diagnosed with A.D.H.D and have received medication which has helped them progress from being distracted and frustrated students to happier and more successful ones. The diagnostic process is not medically driven: the disorder has no definitive test and is determined only by speaking extensively with patients, parents and teachers and ruling out other possible causes. I’ve spoken with parents who have gone through the process of having their children receive this diagnosis, and they are generally satisfied with the process and their children’s response to the medication. Trying to get a distracted and bouncy child to sit still and do homework night after night is no joke. But if doctors are too quick to diagnose A.D.H.D., how can parents determine whether their child is just naturally bouncy, which would lead parents to seek more natural outlets for this energy, or whether their child needs to be medicated?

GCP will continue looking into this issue. Meanwhile, GCP readers, what do you think? Have you had any direct experience with the A.D.H.D. testing process? Do you believe that teachers, parents and/or doctors are too focused on labeling our kids (especially boys) A.D.H.D.? Or are doctors and educators correctly recognizing and identifying an issue which has been ignored for generations?? Please let us hear from you!!

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Resources

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