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ADHD skyrocketing diagnoses and overmedication in children

More children than ever are diagnosed with ADHD

By all reports the rate of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are skyrocketing. The CDC, which last did a comprehensive study in 2007, has stated that an estimated one in five boys in high school are diagnosed with the disorder, many of which are treated with medications.

How high are actual ADHD rates?

ADHD diagnosis rose 22% between 2003 and 2007, based on the same telephone surveys of 76,000 families in the U.S., and has climbed by an average of 3% to 6% each year between 2000 and 2010.

Some medical experts contend this estimate is too high. For instance, one medical expert countered, “By definition, ADHD requires that symptoms have to have a significant effect on life. To say that a tenth of all children have a biologic condition that affects their life enough to call it a disorder just does not make sense.”

But regardless of the accuracy, the increase in diagnosis of ADHD has caused some in the medical community such as Dr. Thomas Power, director of the center for management of ADHD at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, to question whether ADHD might be overdiagnosed and overmedicated.

Overmedicating is a huge concern, especially since drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin may have serious side-effects. The long-term mental and physical health of early behavior-modifying drugs is also unknown at this time.

Over diagnosis highlights the inadequacy of dealing with mental health issues

Some experts contend that ADHD is often diagnosed by a pediatrician or family doctor, but these doctors may not be fully trained to provide a medical diagnosis. Ruth Hughes, CEO of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) believes, “The symptoms have to occur every day for a long period of time, and, more importantly, these symptoms have to lead to major disruption or impairment in at least two areas of a person’s life, such as at school or in relationships.”

Doctors who see kids periodically or annually may not have all the information they need to make an accurate diagnosis and may not understand the proper guidelines for an ADHD diagnosis.

If you believe your child has ADHD you may need to take them to a specialist who can review the child’s hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive behavior, and who has the time to collect and vet the input from a variety of sources and individuals who have interaction with your child.

Unfortunately, most insurers do not reimburse for such evaluations and this may leave parents with little options other than relying on a family medical doctor to prescribe medication such as Ritalin or Adderall.

Medical experts contend that a misdiagnosis or improper treatment can mean that some children who have learning disabilities or other mental illnesses may not get the treatment they need.

What should you try before medication?

Most experts suggest not using medication alone but instead using a variety of treatments such as behavior modification, parent training, school intervention and medication. For instance setting limits and educating children about the consequences of their actions can help as well as having parents, doctors and teachers coordinate their efforts to ensure that the appropriate behavior is being positively reinforced among children with ADHD.

The bottom line: Do not rush to diagnosis your child with ADHD and prescribe them medication without first getting a proper evaluation.
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