Attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, or ADHD as it’s more commonly known, is a mental health condition that includes persistent problems with sustaining focus, high-energy behavior and impulsive decision-making. This disorder can affect someone in childhood and cause issues into adulthood if left unaddressed and untreated.
While ADHD-type behaviors are common among children, ADHD diagnoses seem to be given out much more frequently than necessary. It most often happens in conjunction with the school environment and is too often used to medicate children who struggle to assimilate into a school environment.
Educators, medical professionals and parents alike are questioning why the diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is being handed out to our youth at an alarming rate. ADHD- type behaviors are normal for youth and even part of natural development, leading many adults to worry that a diagnosis of ADHD is given too quickly.
ADHD diagnosis criteria
In order to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, a mental or medical professional would have to observe the following behaviors.
- Difficulty focusing in school, leading to careless mistakes
- Trouble paying attention in tasks or even during playtime
- Seeming to not listen (eyes not on the speaker, fiddling with hands, etc)
- Struggling with multi-step instructions
- Difficulty finishing schoolwork or tasks at home
- Poor organization skills
- Avoidance of homework or forgetting to bring homework home or turn it in
- Difficulty keeping track of items like toys or school supplies
- Easily distracted or jumping from one activity to another
Inattention symptoms may be more difficult to spot, especially in young kids, but they offer to form a pattern of behavior that becomes clearer after time.
Hyperactivity and impulsivity
- Fidgeting or squirming when attempting to sit still
- Having difficulty staying seated and feeling a need to move around during class, waiting for appointments, at dinner time, etc
- Seems to be in constant motion
- Running around, jumping, climbing or other movements when it’s not appropriate
- Wanting to touch everything to the point that it is difficult to manage the child in settings like grocery stores
- Struggling when told to do a quiet activity
- Over-talking, blurting out, interrupting and having trouble waiting for turns
A child who displays impulsive or hyperactive behavior may be easier to notice in school settings or at home. An adult will feel an almost constant need to redirect the child and simple tasks may feel overwhelming.
In order to for a diagnosis of ADHD to be relevant, symptoms must be present before the age of 12 and boys and girls tend to present with ADHD differently. It’s been noted in the scientific community that boys are more likely to act out and struggle to sit still while girls are more likely to be quietly distracted.
These behaviors must also be observed in more than one setting. For example, a child who is able to complete tasks easily at home but struggles to focus at school is likely dealing with something other than ADHD.
Normal development and ADHD diagnosis
There’s growing concern about ADHD over-diagnosis. While behaviors like a short attention span, distractibility, frequent movement and interrupting can be hard to handle as a parent or school teacher, these are also standard behaviors for young children and even teens.
For example, a toddler or early-aged elementary school student should not be expected to look at books silently for an hour or more. While this task may be more appropriate for high school students, even teens without ADHD may struggle to do so if they do not have an interest in the reading material.
Possible causes for the increase in ADHD over-diagnosis
It’s been observed that ADHD diagnosis is on the rise. A meta-analysis published in the JAMA Network Open found evidence that ADHD was overdiagnosed, especially in regard to treatment including stimulant medication. The study found that youth with even mild ADHD symptoms were labeled with the disorder.
This has led to much speculation regarding the source of ADHD over-diagnosis and possibly other sources of these presenting behavioral concerns.
Many symptoms that are hallmarks of ADHD can also be observed in response to a divorce in the family. The stress of a divorce, inconsistent parenting, switching back and forth between homes, exposure to arguments and potential financial issues can lead a child to act differently.
They may begin to display behaviors such as an inability to focus, being easily distracted, engaging in risky or impulsive behavior, or expressing opposition to authority figures. These behaviors resemble the characteristics of a child with ADHD. However; the above behaviors are acute and directly related to the divorce of the parents.
Neuro-imaging has found that children diagnosed with ADHD present with atypical symmetry in the frontal lobe of the brain. This region of the brain is responsible for controlling motor behavior and focusing on one thing and ignoring extraneous stimuli.
Brain scans can illuminate doctors and mental health practitioners as to whether ADHD is present, but diagnosis and reports instead are largely based on subjective reports. For example, a teacher, coach or parent may exaggerate symptoms in order for a child to receive a diagnosis and the extra care that comes with it.
Children with poor health are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Stereotypes, chronic pain or discomfort in certain settings may play into a subjective diagnosis.
Home and school environment
The increase in ADHD diagnosis may be due to unfavorable home and school environments. A study in the journal Pediatrics found that a diagnosis of ADHD was more likely to be influenced by a student’s home and school environment. For example, a child living with his or her biological father was less likely to receive a diagnosis of ADHD.
A lower household income was also indicative of a higher likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis, as well as being a student of an older teacher.
Insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality is also a major contributor to the increase in ADHD diagnosis. Most teenagers do not get the sleep they need, which could be caused by early school schedules, restlessness at night, an overloaded schedule, using social media at night and so on. Lack of sleep can result in irritability, reduced alertness, impulsivity and academic problems.
If you think your child may still be affected by ADHD or was misdiagnosed, it’s time to get intervention. Reach out to the Light Program to get the accurate and compassionate care you need. Don’t try to wean your child off of stimulant medication on your own, or try to treat ADHD by yourself.
Trained medical and mental health professionals can help you get the care you need for your child to excel and enjoy life. Call the Light Program today.