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Top Reasons for Rise in ADHD Diagnosis Rates

November 9, 2016

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?

School Accountability Laws

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.

“Brain Doping” Phenomenon

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.

Sleep Deprivation and Routine Childhood Behaviour

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 behaviour” 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.

New ADHD Treatment

ADHD is a chronic and debilitating mental disorder that can last a lifetime. Researchers have found that the brains of people with ADHD are different. For instance, their overall brain volume appears to be slightly smaller and they’re short on receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine. This neurotransmitter plays an important role in memory, attention, and learning.

Certain researchers are starting to investigate the benefits of 3D multiple object tracking (MOT) to improve attention in child populations with ADHD. As an alternative to drugs, specific cognitive training tools for ADHD are being used to tap into four areas of attention and isolate them. These areas include: sustained attention, distributed attention, selective attention and dynamic attention. So far, the results have been promising as there have been proven positive effects in transfer and improved performance of attention.

CHADD, the Annual International Conference on ADHD, will be taking place from November 10-12, 2016. Here attendees will learn about the latest insights in ADHD treatments, advancements, research and more. Expect to see members of the NeuroTracker team there to reveal how the MOT tool is being used to treat attention in children with ADHD.

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