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Misdiagnosis Controversy of ADHD

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 16 Mar 2015 | comments*Discuss
 
Adhd Kindergarten Child Behaving Class

An important part of treating ADHD is to accurately diagnose it in the first place. But in a recent study, it was found that misdiagnosis of ADHD may be a major problem. The study suggested that nearly one million children in the United States could be misdiagnosed every single year.

What Causes the Misdiagnosis?

The reason could be as simple as the child being the youngest one in their school year, where the youngest in the classroom is twice as likely to be taking an ADHD medication. Another study suggests a similar reason. That study found children who were born either just before or after the cut-off date for their first year of school had a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with ADHD.

ADHD Stimulant Medications

In the first study, approximately twelve thousand children were examined. Researchers analysed the differences in ADHD diagnosis and medication rates in the youngest and oldest children in their first year of school. In the United States and some other countries it is known as kindergarten.

Teacher Perceptions

The youngest children in kindergarten were much more likely to receive the ADHD diagnosis and be put on stimulant medications compared to those in class who were older. Another key influence was the perception of a teacher regarding whether or not they showed ADHD symptoms. This, coupled with the child’s age relative to others in the class, seemed to be the biggest determinant of receiving a diagnosis of ADHD.

Normal Childhood Inattention

Researchers think that if a child is not behaving in class, it could be related mostly to his or her young age rather than ADHD. The child might be inattentive and having trouble sitting still but this could simply be due to the age of the child compared to other children.

A one-year age difference at that level can have significant results. This is something important that researchers think teachers need to be aware of in their classroom. By medicating these children when the ADHD diagnosis is inaccurate, there could be serious consequences for the child – physically, mentally and socially. On top of that, the enormous costs of medication are a burden on the family and the healthcare system.

What Happens Later?

At the start, the youngest child in kindergarten is sixty percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest child in the classroom. Then, once these groups got to the fifth and eighth grades, the youngest was more than two times as likely to be taking a prescription stimulant medication for ADHD.

The overall estimate is that one in 5 children in the United States is being misdiagnosed with ADHD. This equates to nearly a million children with ADHD right now who have been incorrectly diagnosed with the disorder.

Moving Forward With Better Ways to Diagnose ADHD

The recent studies are important in helping us learn the factors that influence accurate ADHD diagnosis. While ADHD medications are an important treatment in helping those who truly suffer from ADHD, they can be harmful to those who do not have the condition. Hopefully, teachers can be informed of the study results and be more aware and cautious when reporting on behaviours to parents.

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What is clear from your article is that the booming therapeutic and pharmacological industries are way ahead of psychological and neurological research. Sociological research is playing catch up, revealing the extraordinary rise in stress levels amongst young people, with associated self harm and suicide. The social media plays a powerful role in feeding high expectations into the mix and it seems little wonder that we are living in a very disturbed and disturbing Western 'civilised' world. We have found a name to give to the very worrying observations that are being gathered in research departments and fed into the media 'feeding frenzy', where they act to raise parental and societal anxieties and as a feedback loop into the lives of young people. I worked for many years with disturbed and damaged adolescents and I would not wish to pretend that the complex problems we refer to collectively as ADHD are not worthy of the attention of research departments, the media and, above all, parents and teachers. All I would ask is that we pull back from the 'moral panic' about the issue and look at the wider issues that society as a whole is facing as we race headlong into our digitally manipulated and over populated 'brave new world'.Let us look more carefully into the society that our young people are being shepherded....or educationally coerced and socially seduced into. I had always believed, as a teacher and parent that each young generation has to take up the struggle to improve the human world. Whilst there is evidence all around of the positive inputs of young people to our social, economic and political world, I remain profoundly concerned about the impact that we adults are having on it, along with the expectations that we are feeding into the younger generation. As Studs Terkel has so eloquently recorded, 'hope dies last'. I'll hang on to that....for the time being!!
Stookman UK - 16-Mar-15 @ 8:53 AM
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