One of the most common neurobehavioral disorders found among children is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And rates are on the rise.
Dr. Ashley Harlow, psychologist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, believes that this spike in diagnoses is due to a combination of factors. “Parents, teachers, and [health care] providers are more aware of the signs and symptoms and, therefore, are investigating this diagnosis as a possibility,” he says.
Because ADHD is so prevalent, there is concern that children are being misdiagnosed.
Misdiagnosis can go many ways, explains Dr. Harlow. “I think misdiagnosis is a problem, although I think it is important to consider misdiagnosis as both diagnosing another condition as ADHD and diagnosing ADHD as another condition.
“I see kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD because they do not like their teacher, they do not listen to their parents, or they do not follow through on what their parents tell them to do,” says Dr. Harlow. “These behaviors do not necessarily indicate ADHD.”
Also complicating the issue are instances where children have ADHD and are instead diagnosed with another disorder, like Autism Spectrum Disorder, or when high-school and college students use ADHD medication to support studying. “In these cases of students seeking study aids, misdiagnosis might occur because of misrepresentation of the symptoms by the patient,” adds Dr. Harlow.
Dr. Harlow says that visible signs of ADHD can include behaviors like “difficulty sitting still in the classroom, disorganization in completing homework or turning it in, making careless mistakes, staring off into space, interacting with peers in immature ways, or starting chores but not finishing them.”
Many children may demonstrate these behaviors, so Dr. Harlow advises careful consideration before jumping to conclusions. “[Health care] providers, in consultation with families, work to determine if enough symptoms are present and impairment is at a level to warrant a clinical diagnosis.”
The CDC states that “children with ADHD do not grow out of these behaviors. The symptoms continue and can cause difficulty at school, at home, or with friends.” Therefore, it is important to treat children who are afflicted with ADHD.
Treatment of ADHD focuses on reducing the impact of the symptoms, not eliminating them. “It is important to remember that ADHD is a neurologically based disorder, and so improving behavior likely means learning to manage symptoms rather than removing the symptoms entirely,” explains Dr. Harlow.
He recommends a combination of medical and behavioral health interventions, including setting up the environment (classroom or home) to be predictable and organized for the child and to make consequences immediate and consistent.
Children’s Hospital & Medical Center offers free parent education sessions related to topics surrounding ADHD. For more information, visit ChildrensOmaha.org/BehavioralHealth.