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An Increase in ADHD Diagnoses

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According to a March 2013 New York Times article by Alan Schwarz and Sarah Cohen, Diagnoses of A.D.H.D. (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have increased significantly in the last few years. The article points to data from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which show 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. 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. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.”

For parents dealing with a child who has A.D.H.D, better resources, understanding and diagnoses of the condition are extremely helpful. The issue is that many doctors fear that the condition is being over diagnosed. The New York Times article quotes Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven, “Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored… 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.”

The situation seems to have the potential of snowballing even more as a result of an upcoming change that the American Psychiatric Association is making in the definition of A.D.H.D. to allow for more people to receive the diagnosis treatment. A.D.H.D. is commonly understood to result from “abnormal chemical levels in the brain that impair a person’s impulse control and attention skills.”

The same New York Times article claims that, historically, A.D.H.D. affects “3 to 7 percent of children. The disorder has no definitive test and is determined only by speaking extensively with patients, parents and teachers, and ruling out other possible causes — a subjective process that is often skipped under time constraints and pressure from parents.”

There is no question that the right medication given to the right person can make a huge and positive difference. The concept that the medication is being diagnosed and prescribed too often when it is not necessary is concerning. A.D.H.D. medications—most often Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse –when taken by those who do not need them can have long-term negative impacts. College students have been selling A.D.H.D. drugs to peers as “performance improving” drugs for a while. Now the trend is being seen increasingly often at the high school level.

The New York Times article quotes Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, “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.”

This is food for thought for parents dealing with trying to help their children navigate a world of ever increasing distraction and increasing academic performance pressure. If there can be a bright side to the issue, it is that the general public– and schools in particular—are being forced by sheer numbers to confront the challenges of increased A.D.H.D. diagnoses and are developing tools to deal with students with different learning styles and abilities. Hopefully, in the long run, even more resources and alternatives to medication will develop for parents and teachers working with children who seem to show signs of A.D.H.D. and fewer mistaken diagnoses and abuse of the medication will result.

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday]

April 23, 2014

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