Why are so many kids these days being diagnosed with ADHD?
Health professionals, concerned about the over-medication of our kids, have been investigating this issue. Is this rapid increase in diagnoses due to an increase in environmental factors that cause ADHD? Or, have we just gotten better at diagnosing ADHD, reflecting improvements in scientific measuring techniques and research? Wherever your beliefs fall, controversy surrounds the prevalence of this relatively new disorder.
One of the most concerning aspects of ADHD diagnoses is the proposed treatment method: stimulant prescription drugs. The proliferation of these drugs—a list which includes Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta—amongst children is highly contested. Many of these drugs fall under the same umbrella category of drugs as amphetamines; they share similar side effects, such as reducing appetite and raising blood pressure, and can have negative effects on the heart. Furthermore, abuse of prescription drugs amongst youth is fairly common, which puts into question the widespread increase in their accessibility. Put bluntly, it is not difficult to make the “symptoms cut-off list” required for a medical diagnosis of ADHD.
Dr. David A. Sousa, perhaps, puts forward the best question for society: are we judging kids’ behaviours too quick to give them a medical diagnosis—instead of looking at other factors in the environment that could be causing ADHD-like behaviour?
Sousa does not dismiss the disorder altogether; however, he feels that too many kids who do not have the disorder are mistakenly and negligently diagnosed with it. It makes one wonder about what values and ideas we are teaching our kids, whose developing minds are increasingly being confronted by a fast-paced, conveniently-packaged environment.
Let’s recap some of the fine creations of modernity in the past half-century or so: constant stimulation via technology’s vast empire of luxury and entertainment devices; corporate advertising selling our children garbage-food and inactive lifestyles; candy-bar machines everywhere; foods oozing with preservatives and other chemicals foreign to the body; the stranglehold of soft drinks and energy drinks on our kids’ palates—drinks loaded with levels of caffeine that are deemed tolerable for adults, and worse for the growing brains and little bodies of the children who consume them.
Souse cites a host of environmental factors that contribute to ADHD-like symptoms. Diet is one of the major ones, but other factors include sleep deprivation, stress, the spread of technology, and heavy metals in the environment. What I found most interesting was his proposal of school-induced ADHD. He believes that our twenty-first century children, who crave an interactive learning environment, are being held back by a 20th-century school system, where the mantra is “sit down, listen, and record.” He argues that this style of teaching wears out the attention spans of these kids, who do not feel engaged with their learning environment.
I stand on the side of over-diagnosis, and even fictitious social constructionism at times. I do not deny the existence of ADHD, but I do think that the majority of kids being diagnosed are the subjects of an unnecessary diagnosis. Schools, parents, and doctors are ignoring the societal recipe that has created attention-strained, hyper-active kids.
Blair Scott is a Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, who loves writing poetry. In recent times, she has become interested in the analysis of various sources of health literature, and how consumers come to terms with this multitude of information. Blair currently works at a health food store, but aspires to become a freelance contract writer and editor.