The number of diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has skyrocketed over the past few decades. Before the early 1990s, fewer than 5 percent of school-aged children were diagnosed with the condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that figure has soared to 11 percent, with about one in five boys expected to get the diagnosis during their childhood. Apparently, even toddlers are affected. The CDC just presented data showing more than 10,000 two and three-year olds being medicated for ADHD. This, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for treating ADHD don’t even address this age group. Not to mention that hyperactivity and impulsivity — key markers for ADHD — are commonly found, even expected in toddlers.
All of which begs the question of whether we are properly diagnosing and treating ADHD. There appears to be no consensus within the medical community as to what is behind this ADHD “epidemic.” Perhaps there has been a change in our environment or diet which has led to the climb in diagnoses. Maybe we have better diagnostic capabilities. It could be that we have changed our expectations of how our children are supposed to behave. Or maybe it’s simply about the ready availability of Ritalin and Adderall and the “try them and see” approach many pediatricians take to treating many kinds of behavioral issues. Until we figure out what is really going on with the rise in ADHD, we will continue to struggle with how best to detect and treat this serious condition.
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