How can I tell if my child really has ADHD? She is struggling in school, and her teacher has told us that she exhibits some of the symptoms of ADHD. I have serious concerns about the over-diagnosis of this condition and the over-medication of many kids today. Do you think I should take the teacher’s observations seriously?
It’s always wise to take precautions against over-diagnosis and over-medication. There are potential dangers whenever and wherever healthcare workers are attempting to confront human suffering and dysfunction. That doesn’t change the fact that ADHD, or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a very real problem. It’s probably genetic, and it’s believed to be caused by abnormal levels of activity in certain regions of the brain. Psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, pediatricians, and family physicians tell us that it affects about four to six percent of all school-age children.
If you doubt the accuracy of the teacher’s assessment of your child, we’d urge you to consult with your pediatrician as soon as possible. While it’s possible that some teachers, school administrators, and parents have been too quick to blame childish defiance and over activity on ADHD, it’s highly unlikely that trained physicians have mistakenly diagnosed large numbers of kids with the disorder. We think it’s just as likely that many children who actually have the disorder and could benefit from treatment are never identified. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatricians has encouraged all of its members to exercise caution when diagnosing ADHD and to prescribe medication only when the disorder has been confirmed and when there is good reason to believe that drug therapy will prove helpful.
As a footnote, it’s worth mentioning that ADHD has been at the center of a firestorm of controversy in recent years. Some people firmly believe that it’s been over-diagnosed in children, as you suggest. A number of Web sites have actually advanced the claim that there is a conspiracy among doctors and pharmaceutical companies to “drug” the children of America. If you’re familiar with this message, you should know that it has been perpetrated almost exclusively by members of the Church of Scientology who, due to their religious beliefs, are strongly opposed to all forms of psychiatry. Both the “Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights,” an advocacy organization that publishes misleading information about ADHD, and Dr. Peter Breggin, author of several books about conspiracies to “drug” our kids, are reported to have strong links with the Church of Scientology.
If you have further questions about ADHD, or if you would like to discuss your child’s situation with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department at your convenience.
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This information has been approved by the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family. The information provided here is for general informational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional for specific questions regarding your particular situation.