ADHD or Paranoid Parents? One or the Other Is Increasing

Filed under: Medical Conditions, In The News, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

Study shows that more kids are being diagnosed with ADHD Credit: Kevin Wolf, AP images for SEARS Holdings Corp


This just in: The number of kids with attention deficit disorder is ... What's this? Gwyneth Paltrow stole the show at the Country Music Awards?

She was great in that movie. You know, the one with the giant robots? What was that called? Oh yeah, "Sky Captain." Why didn't they ever make a sequel? That was sooo awesome! These giant robots go crushing New York and ...

Wait, what we're we talking about?

Oh, that's right, the number of children in America with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It's going up, you know, having jumped some 22 percent in a recent four-year period. That means nearly one in every 10 kids is diagnosed with the disorder.

"Based on our parent surveys, there has been an increase in parent-reported ADHD diagnoses among their children," Susanna Visser of the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells Bloomberg Business Week.

"This increase was from 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007," she adds. "When we project that to the American population, that means that a million more children were diagnosed with ADHD in 2007 as compared to 2003. That's a substantial increase in four years."

Yeah, but remember, these are parent-reported diagnoses. Critics claim parents these days are all too eager to control normal childhood restlessness and general weirdness by bombing kids with Ritalin and other drugs.

Of the 5.4 million kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD by their parents, researchers for the Centers for Disease Control surveyed 4- to 17-year-olds and found at least 2.7 of them are on meds.

Then again, children often have the attention spans of, uh, children.

John D. Ranseen, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, tells Business Week parents are often too quick with labels and pills.

The ADHD label has become particularly trending, he adds, especially when it has been stamped as a "condition" that can be treated with drugs. In reality, he tells Business Week, parents might be influenced by social factors rather than by actual behavior.

"For instance, increased stress to complete as much schooling as possible within a lousy economy," he says. "Another very uncomfortable issue is the role of pharmacological companies in all of this since it is very much in their interest to increase the diagnosis and treatment of this condition. The last thing they have any interest in seeing is a drop in the diagnosis and treatment."

Visser tells Business Week managing ADHD among older teens is an issue.

"Regardless of why we are seeing this, the end result is that health care providers are going to modify their care approach to consider the needs of older teens," she says.

Still, mental health professionals should stop and think, Ranseen chimes in. We are seeing this dramatic increase in diagnoses of autism, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions in children.

Are kids really that messed up? Or are parents becoming a bunch of second-party psychological hypochondriacs?

"What does this say about our society?" Ranseen asks.

Who knows? Now, getting back to that "Sky Captain" sequel ...

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.