More Children Than Ever Being Diagnosed
New federal statistics show an explosion in the number of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD.) According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children between 4 and 17 diagnosed with ADHD has risen 16% since 2007 and 41% in the past decade, to about 6.4 million. The rate is especially high among boys, with almost one in five high school age boys having been diagnosed with ADHD at some point. These statistics can be both a positive and a negative, according to Dr. Debra Cutler, a pediatrician at Houston's Kelsey-Seybold clinic. On the one hand, she says, it shows advancements in the treatment of children. "In the old days when kids were very disruptive, they were just labeled juvenile delinquents and thrown out of school, as opposed to addressing what was really going on with them," she tells KTRH.
While increased awareness and treatment of childhood behavioral disorders is good, many believe the rapid rise in cases of ADHD is a sign that it's being over-diagnosed by doctors and pushed by parents to deal with misbehaving kids and help them do better in school. Dr. Cutler points out that the end result of these diagnoses is access to powerful drugs like Ritalin and Adderall. "Just by telling your doctor I'm having trouble focusing and getting this work done in a timely fashion, (they'll say) oh, maybe you have ADD and they'll give you medicine." But that "maybe" isn't good enough to warrant medication in many cases. "Because if the problem is really a learning disability like slow processing or dyslexia, medication is not gonna help that," she says.
Ultimately, Dr. Cutler says any potential case of ADHD should be diagnosed by a clinical psychologist to make sure a child isn't being unnecessarily or even dangerously medicated. Beyond doctors, parents also bear a large responsibility when it comes to the well-being of their children. "I've had families want medication just because they think it will help their child focus better and get their studying done," she says. "Really, the parents just need to be a little bit stricter about getting the kids to study and be ready for exams."