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ADHD Diagnoses on the Rise, New York Times Reports

Guest post by Liana Heitin. Cross-posted from Teaching Now.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that 11 percent of school-age kids in the U.S.—and one in five boys in high school—have received a medical diagnosis of ADHD. The rate, based on the newspaper's analysis of new data from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reflects a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 41 percent increase in diagnoses in the last 10 years.

Issues around ADHD diagnoses and treatment are, inevitably, contentious. (In fact, a quick look at the list of corrections at the end of the New York Times article offers a glimpse into how thorny this topic can be.) In addressing experts' reactions to the new numbers, the Times writes:

While some doctors and patient advocates have welcomed rising diagnosis rates as evidence that the disorder is being better recognized and accepted, others said the new rates suggest that millions of children may be taking medication merely to calm behavior or to do better in school.

The rates are, as they historically have been, higher in boys than girls—at 15 percent and 7 percent, respectively. In an online chat yesterday, Kelley King, author of Writing the Playbook: A Practitioner's Guide to Creating a Boy-Friendly School, noted that the Times' analysis is based on self-reported information from parents, and not medical records, "so there is room for error," she said. King further argued that boys are being overdiagnosed with ADHD because schools are not accommodating their needs, saying:

When we teach in a way that requires kids to sit for long periods of time, operate verbally, engage in lengthy fine motor tasks, well, some kids will have more trouble with that. More often boys. And they are at risk of being identified as ADHD.

In an Atlantic Wire op-ed, Maria Yagoda acknowledged the problems associated with rising diagnoses and treatment for ADHD, including the misuse of prescription drugs. However, she wrote:

...[A]lso harmful are the consequences of ADHD untreated, an all-to-common story for women like me, who not only develop symptoms later in life, but also have symptoms--disorganization and forgetfulness, for instance—that look different than those typically expressed in males. ... Often, women who are finally diagnosed with ADHD in their twenties or beyond have been anxious or depressed for years.

So far, it appears teachers—despite the fact that they often play a central role in diagnoses—have not had much of a voice on this news. So we're throwing it out to you all. What are your thoughts on the new numbers? Do you think they reflect acceptance of the disorder, overdiagnoses, drug companies' influence, or something else entirely? Does this news make you reconsider how you've previously approached working with students (and families of students) who have been or could be diagnosed with ADHD?

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