9 percent of children aged 5 to 17 years old are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease and Control using data from a 2009 survey. The increase is notable: In 1998, about 7 percent of children were diagnosed with ADHD. The increases were noted in both boys and girls, though boys are still more likely than girls to be diagnosed: 12 percent of boys have an ADHD diagnosis vs. 6 percent of girls.
The data for the CDC’s report was taken from the National Health Interview Survey, in which they interviewed about 40,000 American households representative of the demographics of the whole USA.
The study also found that ADHD prevalence also varies by region and is higher in the Midwest and South. In the Midwest, the ADHD rate rose from 7.1 percent to 10.2 percent; in the South, from 8.1 percent to 10.3 percent.
One new finding: While ADHD rates once varied based on a child’s race and ethnicity, such differences decreased from 1998 to 2009. An earlier study that was based on surveys conducted from 1998 to 2000 found that non-Hispanic white children had a higher ADHD prevalence than other racial groups. The CDC’s new study was based on surveys conducted from 2007 to 2009 and found ADHD prevalence to be similar among non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black children. The CDC notes that Mexican children continue to have a lower ADHD prevalence than children of other racial and ethnic groups.
In addition, while ADHD was previously diagnosed at similar levels children from different income levels, the new report has found that, from 1998 through 2009, ADHD prevalence increased to 10 percent for children with family income less than 100 percent of the poverty level. ADHD prevalence increased to 11 percent for those with family income between 100 percent and 199 percent of the poverty level.
In the Wall Street Journal (via Fox News), Lara Akinbami, the study’s lead researcher, says that “wider access to health- care services and increased recognition of the disorders” are likely reasons for a 30 percent increase in ADHD diagnoses over the past decade. ADHD is now one of the most common mental health disorders of childhood. As Nirvi Shah writes in On Special Education:
Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention, may sometimes act without thinking about what the result will be, and many are overly active, according to the CDC’s descriptions. At school, children with ADHD often have a plan that is similar to an Individualized Education Program for other students with disabilities, but is called a 504 plan. The causes and risk factors for ADHD are unknown, but genetic factors may play a role. Diagnosing ADHD involves a medical exam; a checklist for rating ADHD symptoms based on reports from parents, teachers, and sometimes the child; and an evaluation for coexisting conditions, according to the CDC.
There’s debate about whether or not individuals can “outgrow” ADHD. A recent Los Angeles Times article notes that only about 10 percent of adults with ADHD receive treatment, while a 2006 study in Psychological Medicine found that “about 65 percent of patients retain at least partial symptoms of the condition when they grow up.”
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 reprimanded, and worse, for being excessively hyper, unable to pay attention or sit still, talking out of turn in school and more. In those days (the 1960s), such behaviors were met not with testing, services and compassion, but nuns (Jim attended Catholic school) taping his mouth shut, making him run around a parking lot (not a bad way to get him to use up all his energy, but the running was meant to be a punishment, not any sort of “strategy for managing ADHD” as one would say now) and making him stay after school to write the likes of “I will not misbehave in school” hundreds of times (and then telling him that he’d have to take his chances walking home, with a known pedophile in the area).
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. When he and I read any description of ADHD like the one above, we both say “yes, uh huh, yup” to every item. He’d be the first to tell you that ADHD makes it tough to get things done (though he’s written a couple of books); that it means he’s always paying attention to a conversation in the next room and his mind is usually about three ideas ahead of what is being talked about.
Perhaps some seem to “outgrow” ADHD because they learn coping mechanisms that mask the more obvious ADHD traits. Jim’s have been more than irksome for him throughout his life, yet have helped him in his academic work — he grasps scattered ideas and concepts and facts readily and can put them together into a big picture — and, most of all, in helping our 14-year-old son Charlie (there’s some evidence that ADHD and autism are linked). Jim has an intuitive feel for Charlie’s different neurological wiring and, too, the “neuro-fog” that leads to Charlie struggling to “process” language, events, feelings.
Most of all, Jim’s ability to have his attention all over the place has been crucial in teaching Charlie to do something that many kids like him really struggle to learn, riding a bike. Jim was confident and hopeful — and brazen — enough to bet Charlie could learn to ride a two-wheeler when he was 6 and took off the training wheels, while I stood wringing my hands on the sidewalk. Now they routinely bike 12, 16, 24 and more miles a day on local New Jersey streets and bike trails. Jim’s ability to focus on numerous phenomena at once have helped the two of them navigate yet another an “exciting” moment in New Jersey traffic with cars honking and signal lights changing from yellow to red.
Might it be the case that, just as nearly 1 in 10 US children has ADHD, so do 1 in 10 in adults?
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