A New York Times article decries the fact that ADHD diagnoses and treatment are increasing — while overlooking the truth that managing attention deficit at an early stage sets students up for achievement.
by William Dodson, M.D.
The article from that ran in the New York Times this past Sunday, entitled "The Not-So-Hidden Cause Behind the ADHD Epidemic," by Maggie Koerth-Baker, continues the pattern of the newspaper to look at mental health developments in general, and ADHD in specific, from a conspiracy theory point of view.
The article notes the fact that the rate of diagnosis and treatment have been steadily rising in little boys for the last two decades — from 4-5% to 9.9%, according to the most recent prevalence estimate from the Centers for Disease Control.
The use of the word “epidemic” clearly identifies the author’s view that this increase in diagnosis and treatment is a bad thing with unwholesome causes. The explanation offered by the author is that as the Bush-era funding program for education (No Child Left Behind) was implemented across the nation, school administrators pushed for children with ADHD to be identified and treated so that their standardized test scores, and the resulting federal funding, would increase. This, I think, is a good thing and not something to be decried.
This point of view is well supported by research done by Stephen Hinshaw, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley. Most people do not doubt that improved funding from the federal government had at least some role to play in the increased recognition and referral of children with ADHD for treatment by some school systems. It does not explain why an almost identical rise in the rate of diagnosis and treatment of adults with ADHD occurred over the same period that would not have been driven by No Child Left Behind or administrative skullduggery.
If there has been an increase in diagnosis and treatment because professionals are recognizing that treatment almost always produces a substantial improvement in academic performance, I am delighted. For decades, classroom teachers have been told that they cannot refer struggling students for assessment because the district would have to pay for expensive testing and individualized educational programs (IEPs). If there is a new realization among administrators that not helping struggling children was a false economy, I could not be happier. May it spread across the country quickly.
I disagree with the tone of the Times article. Rather than see the rise in diagnosis and treatment as a conspiracy of nefarious school administrators, I see it as schools’ setting the record straight, which is long overdue. It is an acknowledgment that the schools are finally realizing that ADHD kids can be extraordinarily gifted students and people if given a little early assistance.