The issue of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD in children is an exceptionally complicated one. There are those who believe ADHD is routinely overdiagnosed leading to the medication of children who do not require it. At the same time, others worry that too few children receive needed diagnosis, based on statistical evidence. In fact, both concerns have a certain truth-value, often having to do with socioeconomic circumstances, but even with this information deriving a percentage of children who actually have ADHD is rather difficult.
First, ADHD in children is not diagnosed in all countries, and mostly gains recognition in the developed areas of the world. In these areas, and especially in places like the US, percentages of children with this condition range in appraisal. Some believe ADHD in children occurs in about 3-5% of the population and others suggest the percentage is higher and approximately 7% of kids will be diagnosed with the disorder during childhood. This latter statistic bears some scrutiny since there is misdiagnosis of ADHD in children, and the statistic does not fully take this into account.
Whether ADHD in children occurs at 3% or 7%, there are other calculations that need to be considered. One of these in the US is that Caucasian children are much more likely to be medicated for the disorder, even if they don’t have it. Overmedication or inappropriate diagnosis seems more common. At the same time in the US, certain populations are less likely to get the treatment they need, especially kids of African American descent. This is partially explained by lower socioeconomic status and less access to medical treatment.
It’s easy to see then that there can be overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis at the same time. This means some children are being treated who shouldn’t be, and this justifies the opinion that diagnosis of ADHD in children is being overused. Yet, depending on population, diagnosis is also being underused.
There are other statistics on ADHD in children to evaluate. For instance, roughly 75% of ADHD cases occur in boys. This does not mean the condition is exclusive to males, but given prevalence of boy diagnosis, the disorder might be less suspect in girls. The idea of overdiagnosis can be considered in this light too, since boys tend to be less attentive and more energetic than girls. They have a much higher expected rate of misbehavior and attentional difficulties in early school years. With increases in school hours, such as to full day kindergarten, the condition may be suspected sooner, though a full evaluation should look at behavior over a several year span.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider is that it is not possible to make a casual diagnosis of ADHD. No matter how common the disorder is in kids, and no matter how likely or unlikely the disease seems in one child, real observation and diagnosis should be undertaken to determine if an individual child has ADHD. Even if a child’s behavior seems like ADHD or doesn’t, parents should suspend judgment until they get an evaluation from an appropriate source, if recommended or desired. It’s also worth noting that there are other conditions that may look like this disorder, but require completely different management strategies.