July 09, 2016 Ramola D. Baviskar
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and is marked by regular periods of inattention and hyperactivity. Its causes are unknown, believed to be a mix of genetic and environmental factors.
ADHD can be treated, usually through the use of some sort of a stimulant. The rate of children diagnosed with ADHD rose by an average of 3% from 1997 to 2006, and by an average of 5% in the years since. The increasing number of children diagnosed with ADHD is significant. What troubles scientists studying this “epidemic,” however, is that there has been no comparable increase in studies regarding methods of ADHD diagnoses or treatment to reflect the increase in children who have this disorder.
It is possible that 11% of children and teenagers have always suffered from ADHD, and professionals have simply neglected to diagnose them. The likelier scenario, however, is that physicians are over diagnosing children as a result of incomplete assessments and a desire for resolution, however premature.
There is no gold standard for ADHD treatment, except that it tends to employ a mix of behavioral therapy and a stimulant of some sort. Both of these elements are negotiable, dependent upon the needs of the child in question. Experts agree that behavioral therapy ought to be the first line of treatment for children exhibiting symptoms of ADHD; the reality, however, is quite the opposite. Only a small percentage of children exhibiting ADHD symptoms or diagnosed with ADHD actually undertake behavioral therapy, often due to financial and scheduling conflicts; what should be the most prevalent form of symptom management gets regularly sidelined in favor of prescription medication because it is perceived as more “effective.”
Diagnosing ADHD is an inexact science; more stringent behavioral standards at schools today may be partly responsible for the rising numbers of diagnoses. Teachers pressure parents to ensure that their children behave, and parents, desperate for solutions, pressure pediatricians to prescribe medications that their children may not need. Studies show, in fact, that the youngest children in a class are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD—the underlying cause most likely being that, in relation to the rest of the class, the youngest children are simply less able to sit still for extended periods of time.
There are no definitively proven negative side effects stemming from stimulant medications, though some studies do show a correlation between taking stimulants and hindered physical development in children. Stimulants themselves can cause cardiovascular problems in addition to anxiety; however, they are highly unlikely to do so in the quantity prescribed to children with ADHD. The fact remains, however, that a significant number of children are being misdiagnosed with ADHD, and are being steered towards second-tier treatment (stimulants) over first-tier ones (behavioral therapy).
Shifting the goalposts on what constitutes ADHD and the best way to treat it is immensely damaging to children across the country. It is vital that ADHD diagnoses be meticulous and as accurate as possible so as to avoid misdiagnosing children. Furthermore, children with ADHD must have access to both behavioral therapy and, if necessary, to stimulants; prescription medication is neither a cure-all nor an easy way out and must stop being treated as such. Children must be permitted to behave like children without being slapped with a hasty diagnosis of a behavioral disorder, and those who do actually have ADHD must be treated as unique individuals, with precision and care.