By Daniel Sheras, Psy.D.
(This article is the second in a series of five blog entries that address common myths and misconceptions about ADHD.)
Another common misconception about ADHD is that the disorder is a relatively new phenomenon and did not exist in previous decades. This is an understandable assumption to make given recent data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that suggested that the number of children diagnosed with ADHD increased a staggering 22-percent from 2003-2007. This means that roughly 1 in 10 children is diagnosed with ADHD in the United States. These numbers would seem to indicate that: a) ADHD is relatively new disorder; and b) that the problem is getting worse.
It is important to note that it is unclear just how much current and previous reported rates of ADHD reflect actual cases of ADHD. While it is certainly possible that there are more actual cases of ADHD currently than there were in past decades, this increase in reported cases could also be influenced by: a) an under-recognition of the disorder in past decades and an over-diagnoses of the disorder currently. In the past, less was known about ADHD, and many cases of the disorder may have gone undiagnosed or mislabeled. Now that more is known about ADHD, professionals may be able to better recognize and accurately diagnose it, hence the rising rates. In addition, increased diagnosis of ADHD may represent an increased cultural acceptance of the disorder and willingness for parents to seek mental health services for ADHD symptoms. However, it is also possible that there are current factors that may have led to an over-diagnosis of the disorder in the past decade. Some have argued that ADHD is a “fad” that can be accounted for, in large part, by increased pressure parents feel to have their children to perform at a high level in school or due to professionals mislabeling symptoms as ADHD without sufficient evidence. It is not clear if either one of these assumptions is true, but it is important to be aware of these possible influencing factors when evaluating true prevalence rate and trends related to ADHD.
Given these possible influencing factors, it is natural for parents to be somewhat skeptical about AHDH diagnosis. It is important for parents to keep an open but wise mind when exploring the possibility of ADHD in their child. They can take steps to try and increase the probability of an accurate diagnosis. For example, it is a good idea for parents to seek out services from professionals with experience in evaluation and treating ADHD. Such professionals should take into account multiple individual and environment factors when determining a diagnosis and use a variety of measures to assess symptoms. Following this step can help parents feel more comfortable about the diagnosis that is given to their child.