New study shows that ADHD diagnoses are exaggerated

Children should be seen, not heard.

It’s an old saying, but it speaks volumes about western attitudes toward children. They are often seen as noisy, annoying, impetuous creatures, somehow alien to ourselves and our own experience, despite the fact that we all indisputably were once kids ourselves.

It’s also these attitudes that undoubtedly have helped lead to what some are saying is the massive over-diagnosis of ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

And a recent study from Taiwan, where ADHD diagnoses are routinely 15 percent lower than in Western countries, seems to show that children older than preschool age probably don’t suffer from ADHD nearly as often as they are diagnosed with the condition.

The study looked at nearly 400,000 children aged between 4 and 17, and concluded that in the older children who ahd previously been diagnosed with ADHD, they were actually just “behaving immaturely.”

Which raises the question, how mature are children supposed to behave? Isn’t that literally the definition of what makes a child a child, the fact of their physical and mental immaturity?

The CDC reported last year that one out of every nine children in the U.S. had received a diagnosis of ADHD, a massive increase from the previous decade. And considering the fact that the condition was only identified in 1902, that is a stunning number of cases.

And consider the words of the doctor who coined the term ADHD. Pediatrician Sir George Still called it “an abnormal defect of moral control in children.” Aside from being a tellingly Edwardian and stuffy turn of phrase, Still’s wording still resonates in the way doctors diagnose the condition today.

There are also those who note the radical expansion of the market for ADHD drugs that accompanied the growth in diagnoses and wonder which came first, the marketing or the meds or the disease.

Another factor many consider to be involved in the increase in the diagnosis of ADHD is the trend toward school performance-based testing and the pressure for students and teachers to score well or face the loss of funding and other punishments.

In a recent book, a pair of UC Berkeley professors trace the phenomenon directly to the growing popularity of school-based performance tests in the 1990s and 2000s in the U.S., an approach that emerged across the country and was codified into law at the federal level by President George W. Bush in the form of his signature No Child Left Behind legislation.

Between the rock of big pharma and the hard place of federal education policy, children today have no chance to be kids. By labeling these kids as somehow defective and over-prescribing these powerful, toxic drugs, we are hobbling the minds of an entire generation.

It’s terrifying to think of what the future holds for America and the world if we continue this mad pathologizing of childhood at the current pace.


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