Child diagnosed with ADHD? Not so fast!

Before you subject your child to a lifetime diagnosis of a neurobehavioral mental disorder and amphetamines, slow down and read on. Photo: Are boys too often misdiagnosed?

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2013 — “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking it’s stupid” –Albert Einstein

The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the Psychiatric Times and the American Psychological Association, among many other studies and reports, suggest Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) have been over-diagnosed and medications over-prescribed.

The minute a child is diagnosed with a disorder, s/he buys into it and spends a lifetime believing it. For this reason, among others, a proper and accurate diagnosis based on conclusive available evidence is essential so a child is not improperly medicated, mistreated and/or uses the diagnosis as an excuse for poor behavior. A 15-20 minute office visit to a primary care physician is generally considered an inadequate basis for accurate diagnosis and potential lifetime of being labeled as something a child is not.

In the U.S., the number of children being diagnosed and medicated has grown dramatically, raising red flags of alarm. Diagnosis based on heuristics, or trial and error, clouded boundaries, and rules of thumb in lieu of established diagnostic criteria are becoming medically commonplace.

In 2010, the Journal of Health Economics researchers found that among U.S. kindergartners, the older ones were 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and twice as likely to be medicated.

The Center for Disease Control has published findings that one in five high school age boys are diagnosed with ADHD, a 53 percent rise in one decade. James Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Florida International University and a leading ADHD researcher over the past 20 years, flatly states, “There is no way one in five high school boys has ADHD!” Swanson also declared that the drugs prescribed because of poor diagnosis causes addiction and about 30 percent of these drugs are illegally transferred to other students.

Dr. Ned Hallowell, best-selling author on the subject, originally claimed ADHD drugs are “As safe as aspirin” but now regrets the comparison and has made a call to arms to rally against “Slipshod” diagnostic practices.

Many symptoms are shared by ADHD and ADD, such as lack of concentration, impulsiveness, inattention, trouble concentrating, and “tuning out.” Displaying ADHD’s  symptoms of motoric restlessness, hyperactivity, easily distracted, easily bored, speaks non-stop, doesn’t seem to listen or readily absorb information, fidgets, and doesn’t sit still can all be attributed to other sources of causation.

Studies strongly suggest if we examine the activities of today’s recreational environment for a child combined with media exposure, most children are engaged in time compressed into mini-segments for just about everything. Sound bites, fast video games with dramatic action, fast TV commercials, and multi-channeled cable where children can flip from one presentation to the next in rapid order without letting their attention span gather much information.

There are microwave meals and snacks, weekly new products for dietary consumption and entertainment in a rapidly changing world and their young minds are flooded with the new on a constant basis. Products for food, entertainment and amusement are designed to capture a child’s attention very quickly and the amount of massive marketing can only grab so much before a child’s attention moves on to the next “new.”   

Children as young as three up to seven show signs of inattention, short attention span and hyperactivity simply from such exposures, so perhaps it is no coincidence children as young as three to seven show symptoms of ADHD and ADD and are diagnosed as such and medicated. 

Additionally, simple existing immaturity and slow to develop expected levels of maturation could undermine growth and not be related to ADHD or ADD. Laziness is also a consideration.

Currently, there is no hard data available on the long term effects of years taking such drugs as Adderall, Ritalin, etc. Most current research indicates users do not build up substantial tolerance. However, studies show cardiovascular affect and lest one forgets, these drugs are amphetamines.  Would anyone wish for their child to be ingesting amphetamines, particularly when the diagnosis is not based on strict diagnostic criteria and a potential of a comorbidity or concurrent additional disorder?

Research suggests if a child is demonstrating a sustained degree of several of the aforementioned symptoms, before subjecting that child to a lifetime diagnosis of a neurobehavioral mental disorder, consult a mental health professional and give the child a chance to perhaps, grow beyond the early diagnosis.

A gold standard to live by: Troubled body, see your primary care physician. Troubled mind, see a mental health care professional.

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.


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