How Can We Explain The Rise In ADHD Cases?
By Robert Locke MBE –
Why are there so many cases of ADHD in the USA? Is it because there are easier and more effective ways of diagnosing it? Is it because there are fewer stigmas attached to it? Is it because the pharmaceutical industry has capitalized on a few measures such as the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) scheme? There seem to be so many questions and yet so few definite answers. In this article, I want to attempt to explain why the number of cases has risen so much. This should also help us to reflect on our own attitudes to ADHD especially as October is ADHD Awareness Month.
Is there a problem with ADHD diagnosis?
It seems that ADHD is still being overdiagnosed because there is simply no diagnostic test which would give a simple Yes/No answer. I feel that this is a major factor in the increase in the number of ADHD cases. In addition, there are over fifty childhood diseases which have similar symptoms to ADHD and these range from sleeping disorders, ear infections, PTSD, thyroid disturbances, eyesight problems and a host of others too numerous to mention here.
Different diagnostic methods could also be the key. In France, the incidence of ADHD is much lower than the USA. The reason is that the diagnosis process looks at the family situation rather than using questionnaires involving mostly just the child. In Britain, the incidence of ADHD is now at about 5% (half that of the US). One reason may be the fact they are using the ICD (International Classification of Diseases) for diagnosis purposes.
Are we expecting too much from our children?
I know a lot of adults who feel that the academic pressure on their kids is now far more than when they were at school. Kids have too much homework and there is enormous pressure for them to succeed in the academic world. This could well be the cause in the increase of ADHD as parents seek more and more ways to help their children and are keenly aware of any accommodations that may help their children. They also want an alibi if their children are not performing well!
In addition, there is far too much stigma attached to blue collar jobs. There should be much more value placed on manual labor but unfortunately that is not the case. Many children are in a strait jacket and are not allowed to express their creativity or other talents due to a rigorous school curriculum.
Too little free time and exercise?
It seems that kids in the US school system have very little time for breaks and physical exercise. Look at the situation in Finland where there are recesses every 45 minutes so that children can let off steam and get some exercise and they all have to go out. That means there is a mandatory 15 minutes of physical activity for every hour of study! There are no exceptions and weather conditions in the winter can be pretty extreme such as 25 ° C, but they still must go out and play or run around.
Looking at the ADHD statistics for Finland, we should not be surprised to learn that the rates of ADHD are one of the lowest in the world! Could the emphasis on more free time and phyiscal activity be the reason?
In the UK, research by King’s College London has found that children always do better academically after they have spent time learning outdoors and in natural surroundings.
Too much media and screen time?
There are now studies which definitely show that when kids of a tender age are exposed to too many quick moving and stimulating images that they have difficulty in concentrating and focusing afterwards. This could be a contributory factor but there is not enough research yet to show that this could be the cause of so much ADHD. But there is enough proof that over exposure to screens does actually cause attention problems.
To medicate or not to medicate?
Another alarming trend is the desire on the part of parents and teachers to prescribe pills which will never teach skills! Medication and therapy have now taken over form the need to discipline children or to deal with poor performance and behavior problems.
In conclusion, we now know a lot about ADHD but we still need to understand a lot more about its causes and above all, its treatment. One certainty is that there is far too much reliance on psychostimulants and medication in general. The CDC is tired of warning us that behavior therapy and FDA approved meds should be the recommended ADHD treatment. Unfortunately, the therapy has got lost in the process and medication stands alone at the top of the list. That should give us food for thought!
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