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1 in 10 American Children Diagnosed With ADHD

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

If your child has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), he or she is not alone. According to a new government study, 1 in 10 American children have ADHD.

That’s an increase of more than 2% compared to a decade ago. Dr. Lara Akinbami, a Medical officer at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics says that the new data doesn’t necessarily mean more children are developing ADHD, but it could be a sign of better detection and more advanced testing.“This change is reflected in numerous national data sets,” Akinbami explained. “It’s robust and real. But we can’t say whether it’s a true increase in prevalence or just better detection.” Akinbami suspects that health professionals and parents are just more tuned into the diagnosis. “It probably indicates that children have a better opportunity to get diagnosed now, rather than a huge change in the numbers of children with ADHD,” she said.

The data was collected from a national survey that included 40,000 households per year, Akinbami explained. From that survey, researchers collected information on 8,000 to 12,000 children each year in a nationally representative sample. Akinbami and her colleagues found that ADHD diagnoses rose almost equally in boys and girls between 1998 and 2009. Diagnoses in girls climbed from 3.6 percent to 5.5 percent, as compared to 9.9 percent to 12.3 percent in boys.

Researchers were surprised at the rise in minority children diagnosed with ADHD. All of the major ethnic groups, with the exception of Mexican children, have caught up with the rest of the population.  Why the lower diagnosis in Hispanic children?

“Mexican children remain with much lower ADHD prevalence than other Hispanics,” said Akinbami. “We tend to miss the differences between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, and this difference could be largely due to remaining language behaviors and cultural attitudes. Whether this is a real lower prevalence or if it remains unreported is unclear.”

Researchers were also surprised at the study’s results in the western part of the country. Over the last 10 years, the western states reported a diagnosis rise of only 5.4% to 5.8%.

“I really don’t know quite what to make of it,” Akinbami said. “It does match trends for several other chronic conditions, which have, lower prevalence in the west. Also, it may be related to a greater proportion of children being made up of Mexican children who have lower prevalence rates.”

Dr. Bradley Peterson, an ADHD expert, agreed that the new findings most likely indicate an increase in diagnosis rather than an increase in the actual occurrence of the disorder. “A lot of things will affect diagnosis,” said Peterson, chief of child psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center. “That can be anything from an increasing awareness of the condition to increasing access to health care. Doctors can’t diagnose a child with ADHD if the child doesn’t get to see the doctor.”

But Dr. Peterson adds “We are increasingly more academically, cerebrally, and intellectually focused than we were two, three, five decades ago,” he explained. “And our requirements for kids to do well in school – having to sit still, stay focused, and attuned – have changed over time. I think the tolerance and threshold for saying a particular child is too fidgety, too distracted, has likely changed over time, too.”

“ADHD is genetically based and often unnoticed,” said Michael Manos, head of the Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health at the Cleveland Clinic. “We’re far better at noticing it now, and that is good.” ”There are ways of making the world work for people with ADHD, people whose attention functions serve other purposes than those required in school,” Manos continued. “If we got serious, we would completely alter how we teach children to learn. If we created educational programs that work for children and youth with ADHD, we would create educational programs that work for everyone.”

Jonathan Mooney, founder and president of Project Eye-to-Eye, offers these tips for parents with children who have ADHD.

- Connect your child with positive role models who also have ADHD.

- Realize that children with ADHD are often late bloomers who learn in their own time     and at their own pace.

- Remember to appreciate your child’s courage. It often takes a child with ADHD much longer to complete a task. Acknowledge your child’s hard work.

- Nurture your child’s strengths. When a child grows up feeling less than, stupid, lazy and defective, life can feel pretty hopeless. It is our job as adults to help children understand that they are not these negative labels and that the future holds wonderful possibilities for them.

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