New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, analyzed by Takeaway partner The New York Times, finds the rate of A.D.H.D. diagnosis has exploded over the last decade.
An estimated 6.4 million children between the ages of four and seventeen have received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, 53 percent more than were diagnosed a decade ago.
And yet, while some kids may be over-diagnosed, for many, the disease goes undetected for years, causing a wide range of other mental and physical problems. This is particularly true for girls and women: according to the New York University Child Study Center, between 50 and 75 percent of girls with A.D.H.D. do not receive a diagnosis. One of the largest studies of young women with A.D.H.D., published in 2006, found that the girls were much more likely to have problems with academic performance, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and risky behaviors, such as substance abuse.
Journalist Katherine Ellison received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis as an adult, at the same time as her 12-year-old son. She chronicled this experience in her book "Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention," and her latest book is "Square Peg: My Story and What It Means for Raising Innovators, Visionaries, and Out-of-the-Box Thinkers."
Ellison is concerned with all aspects of the disorder, but worries most about the children who are overlooked: "I worry more about the kids who don’t get treatment and don’t get recognized and go into schools that are really hostile environments for them.” For instance, she says, “Boys are much more likely to get diagnosed...girls slip under the radar even when they have real problems.” Furthermore, there are geographical differences in detection: “You’re much more likely to be diagnosed and to be medicated if you’re in the South than for instance if you’re in California. where I live.”
While there is a problem with underdiagnosis in certain regions and within certain demographics, Ellison admits there are also issues of over-diagnosis. “There’s clearly over-diagnosis for many different reasons and there’s all sorts of problems with that. There’s problems with abuse of medication and I think there’s still tremendous stigma.”
However, Ellison notes that this is a very real issue: “It seems a little bit like global warming. There’s a scientific consensus that this exists. It can be a devastating problem. But there are a lot of A.D.H.D. deniers.”
Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with A.D.H.D? How did it affect your life?