The ADHD Dilemma

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has gained recognition over the past few decades as an ailment that impacts more children than was once thought. According to the CDC, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD in the U.S. was up to nine percent from 2007 – 2009, an increase from the seven percent diagnosed from 1998 – 2000. These alarming statistics have created a debate as to whether the disorder is being over diagnosed and if medicating children is really the answer.

Image courtesy of Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun

Some of the responsibility for the increasing diagnosis of ADHD falls on the American Academy of Pediatrics, who recently expanded their guidelines for evaluating children for the disorder. These new parameters allow for diagnosis and treatment of children between the ages of four and 18, an increase on both ends of the previous age range (six – 12). Many experts are divided over when and how to definitively diagnose children with ADHD. Some doctors view preschool as too early to say with certainty that a child is suffering from this disorder, while others in the health field think that the earlier a diagnosis is made, the more effective the treatment can be.

The new guidelines also make it clear that a diagnosis should only be made after getting reports from at least two teachers in tandem with the child’s parents. Teachers are essential in determining whether a student really has ADHD or is merely hyper and inattentive due to other factors, and these guidelines don’t undermine that responsibility. Schools cannot legally require a student with a disorder to take medication in order to attend class (Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004), so teachers have a more important role than ever in guiding students through challenges and disabilities that may affect them.

The role of medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, in helping children deal with ADHD has been controversial since their creation. The FDA has approved the use of methylphenidate (Ritalin) for use in children as young as four, but there is still debate about the side-effects and long-term impact of taking these prescriptions. Stunted growth, mood swings and bad eyesight are known to occur when taking these medications, so it is up to both teachers and parents to be absolutely certain that a child has ADHD before recommending this treatment.

The bottom line is this: ADHD is a real disorder that affects millions of kids, but it has also become a “trendy” means of applying a label to students who are more difficult to teach than most. The same logic applies to medicating children with the disorder: while Ritalin can certainly help, it’s my view that no psychotropic drug can be a substitute for teacher/student interaction and the focus of a concerned parent.

What are your thoughts on ADHD and medicating students? Tell us below.

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