Is ADHD Over-diagnosed and Over-treated?

September 10, 2016 by Michelle Reynard

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD

There are a number of differing opinions about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and ADHD treatment methods. Here are some of the facts:

  • ADHD is a behavioral brain disorder that starts in childhood and affects people of all ages. There are three types: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined.
  • Inattentive ADHD is more common in girls than boys. It is often overlooked or left untreated. Symptoms include difficulty with organization, following directions, recalling and understanding information, frequent daydreams, becoming bored or distracted easily, and switching tasks without completing them.
  • Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed type. Symptoms include feeling restless, constant motion or fidgeting, impulsive or inappropriate behavior, and excessive talking. Individuals with this type of ADHD have trouble waiting for their turn, often interrupt conversations or blurt out information, and have difficulty with quiet tasks.
  • Combined inattentive-hyperactive-impulsive ADHD refers to individuals with a number of symptoms from both types listed above.

Did those facts trigger images of people in your life (past and present) who fit each description? If so, were their behaviors only temporary, developmental, or the result of another condition or illness?

A Few More Facts

  • According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), over 6 million children (ages 4-17) had been diagnosed with ADHD in the U.S. as of 2011.
  • The number of boys diagnosed (13.2%) was more than twice that of girls (5.6%).
  • There are a number of conditions that cause symptoms similar to ADHD, including sleep disorders, undiagnosed vision and hearing problems, substance abuse, iron deficiency, allergies, bipolar and major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and learning disabilities.
  • ADHD often exists along with other conditions like oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorders, and depression.
  • Medication and/or behavior therapy are the most common ADHD treatment.
  • Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medication for ADHD.

The Challenge of ADHD Treatment and Diagnosis

When faced with the information above, one can understand how the questions of diagnosis and treatment become more challenging. This is especially true when considering medication and all the variables that accompany it. A new book, ADHD Nation: Children, Doctors, Big Pharma, and the Making of an American Epidemic, by Alan Schwarz, examines this issue. Mr. Schwarz is a Pulitzer-nominated columnist with The New York Times. He is best known for his series of articles about the dangers of concussions in sports.

In ADHD Nation, Mr. Schwarz acknowledges the reality of ADHD. However, the author looks at methods of treatment and the role pharmaceutical companies have played in the perceived rush to diagnose and prescribe. He examines the impact prescriptions can have, from side effects to addiction. He also provides examples of medication leading to worse and sometimes tragic consequences.

Systemic Abuses

While Schwarz does acknowledge up front that ADHD drugs have done “considerably more good than harm” and are a reasonable alternative when diagnosed by a “qualified and responsible health professional”, he also calls attention to systemic abuses. For instance, he asserts that three times as many young people are being diagnosed with ADHD than actually have the condition.Schwarz argues that pharmaceutical companies have improperly influenced researchers and doctors. Schwarz examines the way ADHD medications are marketed.  In addition, he features individuals who’ve acknowledged faking symptoms in college or high school to secure a prescription. The book highlights the impact of that deception on their lives. He also describes others who were misdiagnosed at a young age. Schwarz shares the substantial effect learning about the experiences of two such individuals had on Dr. Keith Connors, a renowned child psychologist who developed the standard rating scales used for assessing the disorder.

Critics of Schwarz’s work are concerned that the success stories involving ADHD medication are underrepresented. Consequently, they fear it may discourage those who have the condition from seeking a diagnosis or treatment. There is also apprehension about the stigma that may be attached to adults and children with ADHD as a result.

Continuing the Conversation

Although neither side is disputing the reality of ADHD or need for ADHD treatment, both fear the impact of over-generalization and misuse. Gemm Learning does not endorse or oppose Mr. Schwarz’s position, or that of any author.  We do, however, think it’s important to share information about topics that impact all learners. And we encourage conversation between opposing views.

 

Michelle Reynard

About Michelle Reynard

Michelle is a former classroom teacher with a specialization in reading. She joined Gemm Learning in 2008 and has enjoyed the opportunity to apply her education and experience in new ways.