Around the globe, there appears to be a startling and rapid rise in ADHD diagnosis rates. ADHD is a neurobehavioural disorder that has somehow become an epidemic. For instance, more than one in ten kids have been diagnosed with the disorder in the U.S. alone. In addition, more than 3.5 million are taking drugs to curb symptoms, from lack of focus to hyperactivity. According to psychologist Enrico Gnaulati, ADHD is now as prevalent as the common cold. So, what’s with the rise? Has there been a change in our gene pool? Or, is something else going on?
In the past few decades, incentives have been introduced for U.S. schools to turn out better graduation rates and test scores. As a result, these schools feel the pressure to compete for funding. Known as school accountability laws, schools are disciplined for missing targets and rewarded for exceeding them. Consequently, this has given some educational institutions a real incentive to get children diagnosed and treated.
Across North America, “brain doping” is also now a well-known phenomenon among college and university students. Certain parents really want their child to get into Yale, Harvard or Berkeley, which requires perfect scores. With an ADHD diagnosis, students can seek special accommodations at school, such as more time on the SAT, a standardized college entrance exam.
Parents, students, and even schoolboards are recognizing the potential benefits that come with diagnosis. In addition, a lot of students do not perceive the stimulant as cheating. In a 2012 study, results revealed that male college students believe it’s far more unethical for an athlete to use steroids than for a student to abuse prescription stimulants to ace a test.
Another prominent cause for misdiagnosis is sleep deprivation. Surprisingly, sleep deprivation can cause hyperactivity and impulsivity in children. Furthermore, with added academic pressure and screens that populate almost each room, a lot of kids are simply not getting enough downtime. To a certain extent, almost each child is impulsive, distractible, disorganized, and has troubling following directions.
So sometimes, even “ordinary childhood behavior” will be mistaken for ADHD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), usually used as the gold standard to diagnose ADHD, lists nine symptoms of inattention and nine of hyperactivity or impulsivity. Symptoms of inattention include: making careless mistakes on homework, distractibility, trouble staying organized. Symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity include: interrupting others, climbing when it’s inappropriate and excessive talking. All of these symptoms, however, may sound familiar with those who’ve spent time around children. Consequently, it’s the combination and severity of these symptoms that are considered key in the diagnosis of ADHD.
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