The ADHD diagnosis has become one of the most popular — and dangerous — concerns pertaining to kids these days. As the disorder continues to widen its diagnostic criteria (essentially qualifying millions of more kids for ADHD compared to just a decade ago), countless kids who do normal (albeit annoying at times) kid things like squirming in their seats, speaking out of turn, or not paying attention, are now viewed as mentally ill. Yes, you heard that correctly — what used to be seen as normal kid behaviors are now seen as mental illness, and once labeled as “mentally ill” the kid is almost certain to be immediately placed on psycho-stimulant drugs.
I have witnessed the effects of loosening the diagnosis for ADHD with countless (kid) clients of mine at my practice over the years, and this trend appears to only be getting worse. Amazingly, the vast majority of these “diagnoses” are nothing more than pediatricians quickly doling out ADHD meds to kids, as rarely does a thorough, objective, critical diagnosis by a licensed mental health clinician take place. Aside from the obvious dangers of providing young kids (some as young as 4-5 years old) potentially dangerous psycho-stimulants, there are additional concerns as well:
- When does the kid get off the meds? Does the prescribing doctor think through childhood, and likely into adulthood??
- What effect does the label of a mental illness carry psychologically? Are there dangerous self-fulfilling prophecies to be considered, as well as potential bullying concerns?
- How does the “pre-existing condition” of ADHD at age 8 impact the person years later as an adult when looking for health and life insurance? Is it possible that he could be considered a higher risk, and therefore pay higher premiums later in life as a result?
- What new dangers exist when providing kids ADHD meds that are also very popular recreation drugs? Is it possible the kid is faking symptoms to get the drug, either for his own usage or to give/sell to peers seeking the drug?
- And finally, is a kid really “ADHD” if he only seems to struggle with concentrating doing things he doesn’t like? In other words, why would a kid with ADHD have no problems with restraint or control issues when it comes to playing video games, texting, or watching movies he likes?
The trend of diagnosing seemingly every boy in the United States as ADHD has become so common that fewer and fewer people each day are surprised by it — much less alarmed. “Oh, your son is ADHD? So is mine!” It’s almost become a social club where ADHD serves as the common denominator providing soft, non-dangerous reasons why kids aren’t doing their best in school and/or other life endeavors.
At my office a common starting point by parents when beginning to tell me about their child sounds like this: “Well he’s ADHD and…”. This news is presented to me as if the kid is doomed, and all attempts for future improvement will be faced with the monumental hurdle of overcoming ADHD, which might be impossible to improve. Sadly, it’s not ADHD the parents should be worried about in my opinion, but instead the potentially dangerous label and the even more potentially dangerous drugs.
What you should do:
- Critically interpret the diagnosis. Was it made by a pediatrician trained in mental health? If not, why wasn’t a referral made for a second opinion — or a more qualified one?
- Decide if the diagnosis was thorough. Did the diagnosis include a wider discussion of other variables that might be impacting the issue, including diet, sleep, family problems, and general health issues? It is not uncommon for kids to act differently when experiencing changes in eating, sleeping, or even family dynamics.
- Examine the effects of drugs. If a drug was prescribed, do you know about all the potential side- and interaction-effects? And how long will your child be on the drug? What criteria or markers have been identified when deciding if he is ready to be removed from the drug over time?
- Have you received a 2nd or 3rd opinion? Not only should you seek multiple opinions, but you might also want to critically evaluate your child’s responses if he is being properly diagnosed and responding to the DSM criteria. Do your observations match your child’s responses?
- Have you examined who is suggesting your child be diagnosed for ADHD? If the suggestion to get your kid “put on something” has been made by a teacher, have you had an in-depth discussion why the teacher feels this way? Does it make sense to drug your kid because there are too many kids in the class and the teacher is trying to make his/her day a little easier at the expense of your child being sedated?
The problem today is that with each kid who is assigned the label “ADHD,” the controversial disorder becomes more normalized, and as a result fewer people think critically about both the diagnosis, as well as the drug treatment that almost always follows. Amazingly, active kids today who display previously accepted (and desired) positive behaviors like spontaneity and creativity are now looked at as kids mentally flawed and deserving of a psychological disorder tag. This needs to stop, and it begins by empowering parents to get involved, ask questions, and evaluate information with a critical eye.
ADHD, attention, deficit, drugs, focus, health, hyperactive, illness, kids, mental, psychology