Children Diagnosed – And Medicated – For ADHD On The Rise

Filed in National by on November 25, 2013

This is alarming:

The number of children being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And families increasingly are opting for medications to treat kids. Two-thirds of children with a current diagnosis are being medicated — a jump of 28 percent from 2007 to 2011.

ADHD is marked by attention problems and impulsive behavior. About 11 percent of children in the United States between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with the condition at some point, CDC researchers found, compared with 7.8 percent a decade earlier.

That’s a lot of kids, but are all of them really ADHD?  I have my doubts.  Mainly because, to a certain extent, attention problems and impulsive behavior are the definition of childhood.  (And I’m not saying ADHD doesn’t exist.  I’m saying that it seems to be an overused diagnosis.  So, if you want to argue, argue that point.)

The story I’m about to relate is my own, so take it for what it’s worth.

My son was an extremely active child.  He was walking at 10 months and climbed (successfully) out of his crib at 14 months.  He was a joy and a terror, and I was exhausted.  But he was a happy kid with a ton of energy.  Preschool is where I first heard the term ADHD.  As a new mom, it terrified me.  What also caused me alarm was the way the preschool teachers/administrators painted my child as a problem, as difficult, as a kid who needed to be medicated – NOW!

I was fortunate.  I had an amazing pediatrician – one who hesitated when it came to medicating kids.  I went to him in tears, not understanding what was going on.  I remember sitting in his office and him telling me that my son was not ADHD, but that he’d lost count of the number of kids being sent to him by non-medically trained day care providers and preschool/elementary school teachers, nurses and administrators.  He called it an epidemic.

I fought this fight to not medicate my son every school year.  I always won, but in the back of my mind I worried.  How could all these people be wrong?  But they were wrong, and I shudder to think where we would be today if I had caved and gave in to their demands – and they were demands.  Flat-out, in your face demands to medicate my child.  I lost count of the parent-teacher conferences.  I was mortified when my son was placed on Scamper Camp probation – for not laying on a mat during quiet time and instead causing a “dance rebellion.”  I kid you not.  Today my son is a sophomore in college majoring in Mechanical Engineering and on the Dean’s List.  Yeah, we’re very proud.  And he achieved all of this without medication.  He’s actually quite calm – lazy? ;-) – today, a far cry from his road runner days!  Basically, he grew up.

He wasn’t, and isn’t, ADHD, and my guess is that many kids diagnosed, and medicated, with this condition aren’t either.  It was shocking, to me, to discover the number of kids in my son’s, and daughter’s, classes that were being medicated.  It’s past time to question pharmaceutical companies and education professionals, imo.  In many cases they seem to work in tandem – one has something to sell, the other has a reason to sell it.

That said… I have seen ADHD.  My cousin’s son’s situation broke my heart.  A sweeter boy you’ll never meet.  He simply couldn’t focus – on anything.  He’d stand in front of a refrigerator, unable to choose a beverage.  His struggle was very real.  And while I’m questioning the percentage of kids being medicated, I am not questioning the reality of ADHD.  Here’s the deal… if your child can focus on things he/she wants to, and can control impulsive behavior when they want to, then they aren’t ADHD.  Watching my cousin’s son’s frustration over things he wanted to do was heartbreaking.

But here’s another thing I’ve witnessed:  People having their children classified as ADHD in order to receive extra time/advantages on testing.  Yep, I’ve seen this happen four times in my circle.  Going to take the SAT?  Well, if you’re ADHD College Board will accommodate you

Some students with Attention–Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are eligible for accommodations on College Board tests.

[...]

If you are requesting extended time or the use of a computer, see Accommodations for additional information on documentation.

Hmmm… extra time and other special treatment for those diagnosed with ADHD.  And while I 100% support these accommodations for those accurately diagnosed, I have witnessed parents, usually affluent, use ADHD to achieve these accommodations for their children.

What really bothers me, tho… is the fact that we are pumping medication into our children at a young age and for a long period of time – which makes a profit, and probably a life-long customer for the pharmaceutical companies.  And I’m beginning to think that’s the point.  I’m also thinking that in some cases a drugged child is simply an easier child and, imo, that’s a disservice to kids who actually suffer from ADHD.

Go on now.  Have at me. :-)

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A stay-at-home mom with an obsession for National politics.

Comments (23)

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  1. anon says:

    Pandora – good for you and the way you fought to not medicate your son! I was in a similar situation, but quickly realized the problem was his fat, lazy, uneducated pre school “teachers” and not him. The school was also a problem, they didn’t consider recess an important part of the full day pre school experience. But sure, stick a 3 or 4 year old kid in a room for 8 hours a day with no time to let loose and then expect them to behave – what idiots!

    Kids, especially younger kids, are like dogs, you have to run them hard every day to get them to settle down. Or you can just pump them up with experimental drugs that change the wiring of their brains. I knew kids in my son’s elementary school that actually smelled of medication. We have to stop doing this.

  2. Another Mike says:

    I think back to my elementary school days (mid-70s to early 80s) and think about how many of my friends would be diagnosed ADHD if we had even heard the term back then. Probably several. But as far as I know, all graduated high school, most went to college or into the military or to a trade school, and all are normal adults. ADHD, like you said, is real, but it is the diagnosis of first resort when a kid acts like, you know, a kid.

  3. pandora says:

    The Scamper Camp probation is when I got Samuel L. Jackson righteous! He was there three days a week for three hours a day. Rest time? I told the supervisor that her job was to tire him out so I could rest him when he got home! I wasn’t entirely serious, but, come on… I wasn’t paying for camp so he could lay on a mat for 30-40 minutes.

    Yeah, we laugh about Scamper Camp probation now – kind of a badge of honor! – but at the time it was distressing.

    Preschool teachers, elementary school teachers, nurses and admin. need to stop. If your child is ADHD no one needs to tell you. You know.

  4. Steve Newton says:

    The other issue is here is anxiety or nascent bipolar disorder being misdiagnosed as ADHD. We sent my grandson to AI for a work-up and they couldn’t actually figure out what was going on with him so they simply slapped an ADHD diagnosis on him, apparently to do something even if it was wrong.

    The reality? Both biological parents are bipolar, and the kid has massive anxiety issues. Even if he were medicated, the typical ADHD medications would actually be counter-productive in his case. The psychiatrist/psychologist team we finally located is working diligently with diet, behavior modification, and an oh-so-light medication regimen just to take the edge off of the anxiety.

    Medication has its place, but only if it is the right medication, and the lowest dose possible.

  5. pandora says:

    @Steve Newton:

    Exactly!

  6. nemski says:

    Everyone is going to have anecdotal stories about how doctors have misdiagnosed children with ADHD and other issues. People must be careful not to construe these stories into scientific fact a la Jenny McCarthy.

    Two points I’d like to make here: More and more children are being tested than ever before, hence a rise in diagnosis. The second is to read this article, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/11/21/is-adhd-overdiagnosed-yes-no/, which takes a look at the premier study that plays up the increase in ADHD diagnosis.

    That all said, there will always be teachers/parents/students that game the system. That should not be one of the catalyst of saying that there is not a medical issue facing our children.

    Side note: The amount of TV our babies and toddlers are watch may be having an effect on the rise of ADHD diagnosis as well -> http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/826.html

  7. pandora says:

    Hey, stranger, I was clear that my story was anecdotal! ;-)

  8. Steve Newton says:

    @nemski

    I have no doubt ADHD is increasing. My concern is that when it is increasing the number of shoddy diagnoses also increases. I work with dozens of families across the region with special needs children, and some school districts simply salivate at the opportunity to so diagnose a child, often because it means that (in New Jersey, for example) they can get rid of them.

    There is a difference between evidence that is qualitative and assertions that are anecdotal.

  9. AGovernor says:

    Pandora, you are right. My experiences with my son and school are similar to yours. Schools are expecting too much of 3-8 year olds to sit still and be quiet for 6 hours a day especially when they group them together in “tables” of 4-6 of them and expect them not to talk to their “neighbors”.

    The pediatrician tried to tell me that of course a kid with ADHD can focus on what interests him, especially cartoons and video games. They are “candy” to someone with ADHD. I say if you can focus on A you can learn to focus on B. No meds needed for that.

  10. Liberal Elite says:

    My youngest child’s 1st grade teacher tried to get him on this stuff and her administration lined up behind her.

    I just told them that the kid played chess with his older siblings, and he could do that for a long time. I told them that no one with real ADHD can do that.

    It was a battle but they finally backed off. No other teacher went there before or after, but I truly believe that one bad teacher can wreck a kid, if you let her.

  11. AGovernor says:

    Our story was a bit different than yours Liberal Elite.

    My son had trouble in school, didn’t finish assignments, talked too much, had segregated seating etc.

    Due to a lot of pressures from teachers, the pediatrician, grandparents upset the golden child was failing 2nd grade I succumbed to medication during the year he repeated 2nd grade. It may have helped some, but my child knew medication wasn’t for him and after a while refused to take it. He said he didn’t like how it made him feel. He stopped taking meds some time in 3rd grade.

    I do believe some of the problems were due to his being bored in the classroom, some due to his social nature and some to just refusing to do stuff he didn’t want to do, which was almost all school work.

    He made it through HS as a B student though I was sure he could be an A student and is now attending college at a very good university and by all accounts doing quite well.

    I have seen children who are ADHD so I know that it is real, but it is my opinion and you will not be able to convince me otherwise that a large number of the children diagnosed and subsequently medicated suffer from nothing more than being children.

  12. AQC says:

    For me the issue is when teachers and administrators try to insist a child be medicated. They have no medical training and giving children psychostimulants needs to be an intervention that is carefully considered by medical professionals in conjunction with parents.

  13. anon says:

    Parents need to do everything possible to prevent their child from becoming a science experiment – change your child’s diet – change your child’s school – whatever you need to do to prevent the drugging of your child.

    Parents, you know if your child has ADHD, don’t be pressured by some lazy assed teacher to sedate your child if you have doubts – FIGHT.

  14. Hating Myself says:

    School administrators found an open ear with Big Pharm and the scapegoat was created. Hope more parents apply the effort like DL’s Pandora does.

  15. pandora says:

    Looking back I’m glad I did what I did, but at the time I was frantic and unsure. I’m lucky we had a great pediatrician – without him I probably would have caved under all the pressure from the schools – they were relentless.

    I want to note that there were some teachers that came to my aid – my son’s 1st grade teacher was amazing and advocated for him. Thanks, Ms. B!

  16. kavips says:

    John Young pointed me to this link a year ago… It backs up Pandora….

  17. Dave says:

    ” Schools are expecting too much of 3-8 year olds to sit still and be quiet for 6 hours a day especially when they group them together in “tables” of 4-6 of them and expect them not to talk to their “neighbors”. ”

    And yet we continue the cookie cutter system because parents don’t want to have their child “left behind” or even because when they are in school parents have a much needed respite.

    Some children are not ready for school at 5. There are many children who have not been socialized at that age; do not have the ability to focus; or are used to an environment where they have been encouraged (directly or indirectly) to express themselves whenever and however they wish. Yet we treat them all the same and when one does not fit the mold, it becomes a medical issue. Immaturity is not a disease. The K-12 public education model does not fit every child or every situation. Nor can public education be expected to accommodate every unique individual.

    Perhaps part of the problem is the drive to mainstream every child. Maybe medication has become a tool used to shape the child so that they can be mainstreamed.

  18. Frank says:

    My Ex was a school nurse (she wasn’t very good at wifery, but she was a damned fine nurse).

    As long as 15 years ago, she was convinced that the number of kids being medicated for ADD and ADHD was was too high.

    Clearly it’s just gotten worse.

  19. Mike O. says:

    This topic is not unrelated to the debate on class size waivers. Lower class size would allow schools to deliver more education and less medication.

    The meds can be a blessing or a curse but it always is the parents’ choice and should never be driven by the schools. I am also suspicious of the pharma companies now pushing heavy adult anti-psychotics on kids.

  20. Steve Newton says:

    Mike, given that the class size mandate is 22 students per class, and that the research pretty clearly says you don’t start to reap significant benefits until class size is at 17 or below, this topic is pretty much unrelated to class size waivers.

    Agreeing that some schools press for medication and that some parents are influenced by them into pursuing it, there an important point needs to be made:

    Some children do require medication to function. Diet, reductions in TV, and all that other stuff is good, and may suffice for some but not all.

  21. Mike O. says:

    “this topic is pretty much unre”lated to class size waivers.”

    Hardly. 22 is an average, and many classes (especially the most difficult) would end up significantly less than 22. Lower overall class size would give schools more flexibility to properly work with the “ADHD” kids.

    In any case, there is no reason the public debate about class size should have a floor of 22. More likely the optimum number varies depending on circumstances.

    Also remember we are talking about “ordinary” ADHD, not more serious or complex issues that may require different meds or accommodations.

  22. pandora says:

    I hope I was clear that I’m not questioning the reality of ADHD and that those kids need and deserve all the help they can get.

    That said… this:

    “…but it always is the parents’ choice and should never be driven by the schools.”

    My personal experience was driven by the school. Up until someone (not a doctor) told me my son needed (actually, they pretty much demanded) to be medicated the thought had never entered my mind. My son’s 2nd grade teacher even told me, due to my son’s energy, that he probably wouldn’t be able to fulfill his academic potential. She then related a story about her “incredibly bright” nephew who had to become a butcher. WTF?

    And this is why schools have to stop diagnosing. They simply aren’t qualified. What they end up doing is scaring young parents by playing into their worst fears.