Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is in the news again, after an article that appeared recently in JAMA Pediatrics noted a sharp increase in diagnoses.
The piece summarized a study of children enrolled in Kaiser Permanete Southern California’s health plan between 2001-2010. What’s particularly interesting about this study is that the results vary widely depending on race. Researchers found a that the increase was 67% African Americans, 60% in Hispanics, and 30% in Whites (there was no change in rates among Asians). White children were the most likely to have been diagnosed, at a rate of 5.6% in 2010.
What could explain this increase?
Could it actually be a good thing?
Researchers didn’t speculate. But as a parent of a child with ADHD, I know firsthand the difference that a diagnosis makes.
Getting that diagnosis is often not a straightforward process, though, and I know that in many cases a child’s ADHD symptoms are chalked up to behavior issues. It’s true that symptoms can mirror bad behavior: difficulty paying attention, distractibility, and impulsivity to name a few.
The diagnosis process typically includes an initial evaluation from a primary care physician who will assess symptoms. In many cases a referral is then made to a psychiatrist or psychologist for further testing, but as there are no biological markers or one single test for ADHD, the diagnosis usually relies on information from those in a position to observe the child on a daily basis (i.e. parents and teachers).
While it’s important to keep in mind that this study does not speak to prevalence of ADHD, it does shed light on issues of diagnosis. I think it could be the sign of increased access to medical and psychiatric care, as well as increased awareness among parents and teachers.
Before my child was diagnosed with ADHD, school was a struggle in many ways. We were lucky that there were never any significant behavior issues going on, but lack of organization and difficulty staying focused definitely made school a stressful experience. After the diagnosis we’ve found that there’s increased communication with teachers, better coordination, and a greater understanding of my child’s needs. School has become a much more positive experience for my child.
I hope that the results of this study indicate the same for what appears to be a growing number of children.
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