A recent study by the center for disease control and prevention (CDC) shows that nearly 1 in 10 children in the U.S. are currently diagnosed with ADHD. Between 2003 and 2007, just 4 years, the percentage of children diagnosed with ADHD rose from 7.8% to 9.5%. Based on my observations, this increase is likely in part due to sloppy diagnoses.
Too many pediatricians and psychiatrists fail to rule out more obvious causes of attention deficits such as lack of sleep, too much stress at school, family conflicts, skill deficits in school or poor nutrition among many other likely causes of attention deficits in children.

The finding that diagnosis of teenagers increased the most over the last four years is likely due to psychiatrists failing to account for the motivational and attention deficits that predictably occur in normal puberty. Most of us can easily imagine why teenagers would lose attention for school work!

In addition there are other trends in the schools that can lead to this nation wide increase in the rate of diagnosis of ADHD. Some examples include:

1. No Child Left Behind has led to increased teaching to the test, making school less engaging to students who find it more difficult to pay attention.
2. Increased pressure for test results increases teachers' referral for ADHD to get medications to improve test scores.
3. Misinformation leads parents to believe that the medications are universal performance enhancers, leading them to seek out medication treatment to improve school grades.

Check in for future blog posts for tips and tools to ensure that a child gets a reliable evaluation. As an example, I often recommend families get a 12-week course of therapy, which includes parent coaching, to address other issues that can look like ADHD before they get an evaluation. The treatment may resolve issues while building emotional intelligence in the child and either lead to improvement or at least increase the accuracy of the evaluation by resolving alternative explanations for impulsive behavior and poor concentration.

About the Author

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb

Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author of multiple books.

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