Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the incidence of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has risen 41 percent in the last 10 years. I can certainly confirm that cases of ADD and ADHD have been on the rise in my practice. The reason for the rise is unclear, but it is likely due to numerous factors, with better recognition of the problem among the biggest. Many of the children that I see with ADD or ADHD have parents who themselves struggled with the same issue of focusing in school settings but were not diagnosed with the problem.
There is some concern about overdiagnosis, which is always something physicians have to be aware of. The stimulant medications that are used to treat ADD and ADHD are sometimes abused, so we have to be careful to make sure that the right people are being prescribed the medication. Our practice here is meticulous in gathering the appropriate information from the family, the teachers at school and the students themselves to be sure we are treating the students who need help the most. As physicians, we are trying to work toward the right combination of the lowest dose with the fewest side effects that still gives the kids the ability to focus. We try to avoid the zombie-like state caused by overmedicating the child. Our goal is for them to be themselves and be able to stay on task. Since kids are always growing (and insurance companies seem to change what they will cover on a frequent basis), this is an ongoing process in which we have to see them regularly to monitor growth and symptom control.
The stimulant drugs that we use to treat ADD and ADHD have been a great tool for the children who are appropriately diagnosed. I have many parents coming in to see me who don’t want to medicate their children, yet they see how difficult it is for them to focus and learn in the school environment. I try to use the analogy of a tool when referring to stimulant medicines. They are not to be used as a behavioral instrument, but rather as a tool to allow the children to be themselves and focus on what they need to in order to learn to the best of their potential. It is so gratifying to see kids who have struggled, many through several school years, suddenly working up to their potential. That is the best part of treating kids with ADD and ADHD: giving them the tools to succeed and seeing them flourish and learn to the best of their ability.
For more information about the CDC data, refer to the recent New York Times article, ADHD Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise.