ADHD diagnoses given out with too high of a frequency
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 23:09
An inability to focus, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior—these are all words associated with a condition called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD.) Coincidentally, these are also words commonly associated with most 5-year-olds.
My mom runs a small home daycare, so I can say from experience that most young children are constantly in motion. However, lately these symptoms can be the reason for children as young as 5 years old to be medicated. The total number of ADHD diagnoses rose from 4.4 million to 5 million between 2002 and 2010, according to thefix.com. This number is too high, especially in the cases of young children. Few would question that ADHD is a real condition and that many patients benefit from medication. The question is where you draw the line between typical 5-year-old exuberance and ADHD.
I found a story online recounting the horrors of a mother seeing numerous doctors who prescribed various medications to her son that just made his behaviors worse. She continued because both psychiatrists and doctors were adamant that her son had ADHD based on his behavior in school. In reality, there are myriad reasons why children misbehave.
According to the University of Missouri, hunger, lack of sleep or need for attention can trigger misbehavior. In this particular case it turned out that the boy’s brain had been negatively affected by overexposure to carbon monoxide, a fact the mother shared with doctors. They dismissed this data because they were so fixated on the diagnosis of ADHD. According to an article on The New York Review of Books’ website, during the 1980s psychiatrists became less interested in the reasons behind patient behavior and instead focused on treating symptoms using drugs that alter brain function.
Not only is the decision to medicate often made prematurely, but medications are not always the best solution for children with ADHD symptoms. According to a study published in the Lancet Journal, diet restrictions can often have better results for ADHD than medication. Dr. Lidy Pelsser of the ADHD Research Center in the Netherlands said that 64 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD are actually experiencing a hyper-sensitivity to food. Researchers determined that starting kids on a controlled diet can produce unbelievable results enhancing the ability to focus and reducing impulsivity. A change in strategy can help. Teachers can improve student concentration by allowing more frequent breaks or using techniques like special chairs that allow more movement. Educators can also employ more creative ways of learning, like acting out a book instead of simply reading it so that they can better channel student energy. Instead of assuming medication is the best solution, a range of methods should be employed when dealing with hyperactivity.
According to the Chicago Tribune, children as young as 4 can be treated for ADHD but the most common drug prescribed (Methylphenidate) is only approved by the Food and Drug administration for use in children over 6. This drug can have negative side effects including loss of appetite, problems sleeping, restlessness, irritability, anxiety, headache or worsening of aggressive behavior. Although these symptoms are not life threatening, they can have a significant impact on a young child.
One of the problems with diagnosing ADHD is that the symptoms of the disorder are so broad that early signs can actually result from many other things.
Larry Silver, M.D., a psychiatrist at Georgetown University School of Medicine, said that “A child might have separation anxiety, his fine motor skills or sensory problems could be making it hard for him to behave, or it could be evolving Pervasive Developmental Disorder.” Doctors often lack enough data to diagnose ADHD when the child is 5 or younger.
Do young children exhibit signs of ADHD? They absolutely do. The important thing is to look at each child as an individual and consider all the possible reasons for the symptoms before resorting to medications. Although children may be hyperactive or have trouble focusing at a young age, environmental reasons such as diet, lack of sleep, anxiety and other causes should be considered before making a diagnosis of ADHD. It is also possible that a young child will outgrow symptoms and gain better control over their impulses and their ability to concentrate as they mature. There are certainly times when medication is appropriate but it is both responsible and ethical to explore other options before dispensing drugs, especially to very young patients.