ADHD in the DSM-5 Era
The new diagnostic criteria for ADHD in DSM-5 flag issues that deserve attention if you are a parent. These include:
1) Age doesn’t matter as much. In prior versions of the DSM, ADHD was represented as a disorder which starts in childhood – an onset prior to age 7 had to be established to make a diagnosis. This has changed – the age of onset has been extended to before 12 years of age. So parents should be aware that ADHD symptoms may now be detected later in childhood. And parents too may be more likely to be diagnosed themselves, as the new criteria make it easier to recognize ADHD in adults.
2) Age does matter though. While it is legitimate to say that children, teens, and adults all can show symptoms of ADHD, applying the criteria to the different age groups requires much clinical skill. Keep in mind that the proper use of DSM-5 requires this. For example, a clinician must apply the same criteria to a 5-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 15-year old. The symptoms of ADHD reflect behaviors that can be shown by any child – it’s typically the frequency of these behaviors (they occur much more often as compared to what’s expected developmentally), the pervasiveness of the behaviors (you see them at home and in school), and the consequences of the behaviors (e.g., a kid is having difficulties keeping up with school work, is getting in trouble in school). A clinician needs to have a reference point for each age in their head in order to properly apply the DSM-5 criteria. This means that they should have very solid training in developmental science as part of their overall expertise. This is particularly true given the controversies about diagnosing and treating ADHD in preschoolers.
3) Be careful who applies the criteria. The DSM series (we are now on the 5th edition) is a guidebook for clinicians. It represents current thinking on the most telling signs of a disorder. It does not say anything about how the information should be collected to come to a clinical decision. So, you need to beware of anyone who doesn’t do a full, comprehensive evaluation that includes observations of the child, interviews with the child, much discussion with parents, acquiring lots of information from parents via questionnaires, collecting information from teachers and school personnel, and ideally a range of tests (including neuropsychological exams) that can consider alternative issues (like underlying learning disorders). This kind of evaluation is required to prevent overdiagnosis of ADHD, which may be rampant these days.
4) DSM-5 does not dictate what treatment will work best. DSM-5 is designed to facilitate the diagnostic process. It does not dictate the treatment strategy. A diagnosis of ADHD does not mean that a child necessarily needs Ritalin or other similar medications to control the symptoms. That’s a whole different discussion with a clinician who is trained to consider a range of treatment strategies. It is always wise to consider first behavioral treatments for ADHD and determine, after a sufficient amount of time, how much improvement can be gained by them before thinking about medication. Do not believe a practitioner who only endorses medication after a diagnosis is made.
The bottom line is the the DSM-5 is not intended to be used in a simplistic way to quickly diagnose ADHD and immediately promote medication. It is a tool that helps clinicians come to a determination of where a child is at developmentally with respect to ADHD. This is a complex process that requires lots of clinical insight. Having DSM-5 in hand doesn’t change that.Add a Comment