Caroline Miller: The truth about ADHD: Over-diagnosis linked to cause championed by Michelle Rhee

By | March 3, 2014

This story was originally posted by Caroline Miller of Salon.com

The truth about ADHD: Over-diagnosis linked to cause championed by Michelle Rhee

Researchers have discovered a disturbing link between over-diagnosis and the proliferation of standardized testing.

Saturday, Mar 1, 2014 02:00 PM EST

There has been a lot of public agonizing lately about the steep rise in diagnoses of ADHD over the last two decades. There is growing, and justifiable, worry that a lot of kids are being put on stimulant medications who don’t need them.

What there hasn’t been is a plausible theory about what’s driving this explosion of diagnoses — 40 percent over the last decade and more than 50 percent over 25 years. The CDC now estimates that 12 percent of school age kids, and as many as 20 percent of teenage boys have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Blame has been directed at parents, for being so poor at discipline that they reach for a pill to make unruly kids settle down. Teachers are blamed for being so inept at maintaining order that they want students medicated into submission. Psychiatrists are blamed for being the pawns of drug companies peddling ADHD meds. But blaming doesn’t explain it. It’s not credible that an increase of this magnitude comes from individual parents, teachers and doctors suddenly pathologizing ordinary child and adolescent behavior. In my experience, most parents are quite reluctant to put their kids on psychotropic medication unless they’re in serious distress.

Now comes a book that, finally, offers a data-based analysis that could begin to account for an increase on this scale. “The ADHD Explosion, by Stephen Hinshaw and Richard Scheffler, considers all kinds of factors that may contribute to the surge, from diagnosis by undertrained and harried pediatricians to pharmaceutical advertising. But the eye-opening insight from Hinshaw, a clinical psychologist, and Schleffler, a health economist, who are colleagues at University of California, Berkeley, is the correlation between educational policies and the prevalence of ADHD diagnoses.

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