Rates of U.S. kids with ADHD rises sharply

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by Emily Wemhoff

According to a new report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of U.S. children affected by attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are increasing sharply. The survey shows that the neurobehavior disorder affects roughly 11 percent of children aged 4 to 17, a 16 percent increase since 2007. The rise is especially alarming in boys, with an estimated 1 in 5 high school boys diagnosed.

Some think the increase is the result of better recognition of ADHD by doctors, however others are raising concerns about whether ADHD diagnosis and medications are being extremely overused. According to child psychologist Michelle Macrorie, the increase in the rates “is a combination of keener diagnosing and environmental impact.”

“Clinicians now have better tools and a better understanding of many conditions,” Macrorie said. “They are better able to delineate between them,” Macrorie said.

According to Macrorie, there is a lot of research going on about  the impact of our environment on human development.

“It is suspected that the increase in the rates of ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, has been spurred by changes to what we are exposed to in the environment,” Macrorie said.

These rates suggest that millions of children could be taking medication to calm behavior or to do better in school. According to the CDC’s website, historically, 3-7% of children have been diagnosed with ADHD.  According to Macrorie, a full psychological or neuropsychological evaluation is suggested in order to diagnose ADHD. This involves obtaining a good report of the individual’s history and learning of their areas of challenge in their life (e.g., developmental history taken from their parents). The evaluation also involves testing a child’s intellectual functioning (IQ) and academic achievement levels, in order to help rule out learning disabilities. Psychologists will also assess emotional functioning to rule out mood and anxiety disorders, according to Macrorie.  Because there is no definitive test, it is often a subjective process.

The increase in diagnoses will soon jump even higher. According to the American Psychiatric Association, new guidelines on how to diagnose ADHD will be released this month and they will allow for more people to receive treatment.

The CDC interviewed more than 76,000 parents nationwide by both cellphone and landline from February 2011 to June 2012. The data was analyzed and reported by the New York Times; the CDC has plans to publish its own report soon. However, according to CNN, this report is inconclusive, because it is not as reliable as verified diagnoses from medical or school records.

This increase in medication could lead to an even bigger problem. At STA, many students take Adderall, sometimes to help study for tests. Various studies have estimated that 8 percent to 35 percent of college students take pills to enhance school performance, according to the New York Times. Very few students realize that giving or accepting even one Adderall pill from a friend with a prescription is a federal crime. Adderall is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II drug, in the same category as cocaine, because of its highly addictive properties. If more people are medicated, there is an even greater risk of the illegal distribution of drugs. According to guidance counselor Amanda Johnson, just because a certain kind of medicine comes from a doctor does not mean that it is any less dangerous to take than drugs off of the street.

“People think it’s okay [to take someone else’s prescription medication] because it’s a prescription,” Johnson said. “Not true.”

According to an article by Dr. Barbara C. Fisher, ADD and ADHD are different, but the terms are often used interchangeably.  According to Macrorie, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by three prominent symptoms: inattention, impulsivity, anad hyperactivity/restlessness. ADD  is used to describe individuals that have ADHD without the hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.

Macrorie  does believe that ADHD is over-medicated.

“Medication is a temporary solution to an underlying neurological problem,” Macrorie said. “With every medication comes side effects and the ones used with ADHD are no exception. I suggest medication as a last resort, after full efforts have been made to try cognitive-behavioral strategies such as parent coaching, brain-training programs, physical approaches like exercise, and sensory strategies. I would love to see some far more innovative approaches used in schools for kids with ADHD.”