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April 1, 2013 at 9:29 AM
Are school kids being overdiagnosed with ADHD?
The headline’s question is explored in a New York Times report that one in five high-school-age boys in the U.S. and 11 percent of all school-aged children have been diagnosed with attention deficity hyperactivity disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study was a broader one about children’s health but noted the marked rise with some concern – not just about rate of medical diagnosises but the possible overuse of medication to treat the disorder. According to the Times, about two-thirds of those diagnosed were prescribed stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall. Those drugs can have a dramatic and positive affect, calming young minds and bodies enough to stay on task during the school day, but they can lead to addiction, anxiety, and in rare cases, psychosis.
The rising rates may be because ADHD is better recognized by doctors and better accepted among parents. Or more ominously, the New York Times suggests ADHD drugs’ ability to dramatically transform the academic performance of some students may be proving too much of a lure for schools, parents and doctors. A media firestorm about a college graduate addicted to Adderall likely frightened many parents. The plethora of news stories about the downsides of treating ADHD wtih drugs, alongside the less breathy stories about the efficacy of ADHD drugs has left parents confused. I found this New York Times dialogue helpful in sorting out many of the issues.
I believe the diagnoses are more often real than not. But that does not mean the treatment has to be medication. A study published in the Lancet medical journal pointed to diet as a way to help kids with ADHD. The study’s lead author, Dr. Lidy Pelsser of the ADHD Research Centre in the Netherlands, believes 64 percent of kids with the disorder are experiencing a food allergy that can be treated with a change in diet. Pelsser compares ADHD to eczema.
The skin is affected, but a lot of people get eczema because of a latex allergy or because they are eating a pineapple or strawberries.” That is not always the case, however.
“In all children, we should start with diet research,” Dr. Pelsser says. If a child’s behavior doesn’t change, then drugs may still be necessary. “But now we are giving them all drugs, and I think that’s a huge mistake,” she says.