Mining CDC data, The New York Times is reporting today nearly one in five high school age boys and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Are we over-diagnosing attention deficit hyperactivity, especially in boys, because we have less tolerance of what were once understood and accepted as normal kid behaviors?
Have we become a nation that spots a fidgety 5-year-old and thinks a pill is the answer?
Are these behaviors more troubling in an era where even kindergarten has an academic focus and where children are measured by test scores? Are parents buying the pharmaceutical industry’s promise that it can turn a restless student into a focused scholar?
A child with ADHD is easily distracted, hyperactive and impulsive. More than overactive, these children often can’t sit still long enough to respond to a question or listen to a story. Some can’t slow down between idea and action, leaving them with more than their share of sprained ankles from leaping off a desk or fence. At its worst, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder undermines learning and prevents children from forging friendships.
One mother told me that her son was so easily distracted that he fell out of his desk when reaching into his backpack for his lunch because he forgot what he was doing.
Many parents reluctantly resort to drugs for their children and they contend that it changes everything. Their kids can concentrate in school; they are calmer. They have more friends.
It is not that children didn’t have ADHD 50 years ago. They did. They were the class daydreamers or fidgets who either dropped out in high school or were sent to shop class.
But the number of kids diagnosed with ADHD has soared.
One of the most cogent voices in this debate has been Anthony Rao, co-author of “The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World.”
When I interviewed him a few years back, he told me that normal developmental phases were being misread as disorders by classroom teachers. and then too quickly confirmed by pediatricians. The checklist for disorders — impulsivity, delays in socializing and language, resistance to eye contact, problems in transitions, extreme shyness, sudden fits — can also be a checklist of temporary development phases and setbacks.
In the interview, Rao noted that today’s classroom is better suited for the ways girls learn. “When you promote all this assessment and increasing standardization, you narrow the way you are going to teach kids, eclipsing the ways that boys learn better. You go to much less hands-on and manipulation of objects and to more sit down and lectures,” he said.
According to The New York Times: (This is a short excerpt. Please read the entire piece before commenting.)
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. These rates reflect a marked rise over the last decade and could fuel growing concern among many doctors that the A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its medication are overused in American children.
And even more teenagers are likely to be prescribed medication in the near future 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. 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.
While some doctors and patient advocates have welcomed rising diagnosis rates as evidence that the disorder is being better recognized and accepted, others said the new rates suggest that millions of children may be taking medication merely to calm behavior or to do better in school. Pills that are shared with or sold to classmates — diversion long tolerated in college settings and gaining traction in high-achieving high schools — are particularly dangerous, doctors say, because of their health risks when abused.
Experts cited several factors in the rising rates. Some doctors are hastily viewing any complaints of inattention as full-blown A.D.H.D., 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.
“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 and the author of “How Doctors Think.”
Fifteen percent of school-age boys have received an A.D.H.D. 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 A.D.H.D. medication, the data showed.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog