ADHD: 2012 In A Snapshot

Two themes stand out for me this year with respect to research on ADHD: 

Diagnosis: We continued to observe a potential paradox – ADHD may be overdiagnosed, yet many kids do not receive proper diagnosis and care. Here’s why. The overdiagnosis aspect comes about because kids are given a label of ADHD without going through a rigorous interdisciplinary evaluation. And that’s where some kids slip through the cracks – some kids with severe symptoms do not get evaluated properly and struggle for years without appropriate intervention. So even though studies suggest that the rate of ADHD is very high (like some of the data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), that does not translate into saying that all kids who may suffer from high levels of severity and impairment are getting the clinical services they need.

Treatment: The debate about using medications to treat ADHD got more extreme this year. A controversial opinion piece by a leading developmental researcher essentially negated the role of biology as a root cause of ADHD. On the other side of the issue, there were suggestions that kids as young as 4 years of age should start receiving medications to control their symptoms – and there were reports that in some (economically disadvantaged) areas of the country doctors are giving kids ADHD medication (without assessment and diagnosis) to try to improve their behavior and performance in school. Lost in the debate is the very real need for behavioral treatments that focus on parental strategies to help kids with ADHD function better both at home and in school. My viewpoint on all this continues to be that behavioral approaches should be tried first and should always be in place – and that once those effects are established clinicians and parents can have a more meaningful dialogue about the possible additional advantages of medication.

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