While some see the numbers as a good sign that the disorder is being more widely recognized, many are truly concerned that over-diagnosis is at work.
A report just published in the New York Times indicates that the rate of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) diagnosis for school-age children, and especially high-school age boys is climbing. The new data, which was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows not only a rise in the overall rates of diagnosis, but a huge gap between the diagnosis between boys and girls in the same age-group, a gap that only appears to be widening. According to the report in the Times,
The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an ADHD diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 53 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 ADHD but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.
Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts cited several factors in the rising rates. Some doctors are hastily viewing any complaints of inattention as full-blown ADHD, they said, while pharmaceutical advertising emphasizes how medication can substantially improve a child’s life. Moreover, they said, some parents are pressuring doctors to help with their children’s troublesome behavior and slipping grades.
Fifteen percent of school-age boys have received an ADHD diagnosis, the data showed; the rate for girls was 7 percent. Diagnoses among those of high-school age — 14 to 17 — were particularly high, 10 percent for girls and 19 percent for boys. About one in 10 high-school boys currently takes ADHD medication, the data showed.
James Swanson, one of the leading ADHD researchers for the last 20 years and a professor of psychiatry at Florida International University said, “There’s no way that one in five high-school boys has ADHD.” He also pointed out that there are “problems that are predictable” when treating children with stimulants when they don’t actually need them, or don’t actually have ADHD, including long-term abuse and dependence. But as Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School points out, “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.”
With the rising awareness of the “boy crisis,” and the growing gender gap in academic success, coupled with the recent announcement by the American Psychiatric Association that they plan to “change the definition of ADHD to allow more people to receive the diagnosis and treatment,” it appears the number of boys being placed on behavior altering drugs is only going to increase in the near future. One of the questions that we are asking is — if these behaviors are causing boys to fall behind in schools, should we be changing the behaviors or changing the schools?
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