Faking ADHD has become the latest strategy high school students use to gain the upper hand in the college admissions game, says a January 25th Daily Beast article. Parents (and in particular those whose children attend “elite Manhattan” private schools — I’ve known at least one) have become “amenable to lightweight diagnoses like ADHD that won’t brand kids with a scarlet letter while applying to schools” and seek out neuropsychological testing for children whose “ADHD” may be more perceived, if not pretend, than actual. The reason is the “accommodations” a student with ADHD can receive, such as more time to take standardized tests like the SAT, more time for assignments and even alternative assignments and access to medications including Ritalin and Adderall.
The Daily Beast cites a 2002 study by the College Board (which administers the SAT) that indeed shows that there has been an “increase in the number of applicants who take tests in nonstandard conditions.” Certainly, the number of students diagnosed with ADHD has increased in recent years, with nearly 1 out of 10 children in the US now diagnosed with the condition. More students may be diagnosed with ADHD because parents, pediatricians and teachers are better informed about it and aware of how accommodations can a help a child succeed. But as the Daily Beast suggests, greater awareness of ADHD can also mean that more parties will seek a diagnosis, whether a student really has had lifelong struggles with focusing, controlling impulsive behavior and hyperactivity.
Faking ADHD: Easier Than You May Think
A 2010 study in the journal Psychological Assessment found that it is not too difficult for college students, armed with some quick Google research, to feign ADHD. Professor David Berry of the University of Kentucky and his colleagues had a group of college students — some who had ADHD and were not taking their medication, and some who had been instructed to pretend to have ADHD — take two self-report tests, the ADHA Rating Scale (ARS) and the Conners Adult ADHD Rating Scale (CAARS). The researchers found that such self-report assessments had “no value” in detecting those who were only pretending to have ADHD.
Saying that you have “attention issues” or “problems focusing” has become commonplace, but there are plenty of children, teenagers and adults who have ADHD — whose brains are “differently wired” — and who have faced immense challenges not only in taking tests and completing homework, but in everything from social interactions to sports, with effects on their self-confidence and sense of self-worth.
Growing Up With ADHD But Without a Diagnosis
My husband Jim has really severe ADHD and would tell anyone in a second that he’s had it all his life, as did his late mother. Jim was pegged with having “minimal brain damage” by a school psychologist in high school after spending his childhood being censured, and worse, by his parents for being unable to pay attention, sit still and stop talking. In those days (the 1960s), such behaviors were met not with testing, services and compassion, but with nuns (Jim attended Catholic school) taping his mouth shut and punishing him by keeping him after school to write “I will not misbehave in school” hundreds of times.
When Jim (he’s now a professor of cultural studies and religion in New York) visited a psychologist some years ago, he was told he definitely has ADHD (in contrast to a number of other people who had self-diagnosed themselves with ADHD and sought out the psychologist’s stamp of approval).
If the “faking ADHD college admissions strategy” is indeed the case — if an ADHD diagnosis is being understood as another tool to give a student an “advantage” in getting into a top college — it is a regrettable sign of the lengths students, and their parents, will go just to be able to put a sticker with [insert name of Ivy League school here] on the back of their SUV. Faking an ADHD diagnosis simply to “get ahead” in college admissions and in one’s educational performance does a real disservice — is a slap in the face — to those individuals who actually have ADHD and real, documented learning disabilities such as dyslexia and whose struggles in the classroom need to be taken seriously rather than discounted.
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