Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s, talks about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in March that 11 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD. That’s about 6.4 million kids between the ages of 4 and 17 -- a 53 percent increase over the last decade.
Nearly one in five high school boys receives the diagnosis.
It's a tough disorder to diagnose because it involves extensive interviews with patients, parents and teachers, not to mention screening for, and ruling out, other conditions that often look like ADHD, such as a learning disability. In the medical community we've been seeing this trend, but that particular study really turned some heads among the general public.
Why the backlash among parents to medicating their children who've been diagnosed with ADHD? And, are there downsides?
In this month's ParentMap cover story, we talk about a patient whose parents had decided not to get him treated for his ADHD and it was a very lonely experience for the boy. The parents had feared their son would be stigmatized if he were being treated and on medication. But his behavior was unpredictable. It would startle people around him and so they would stay away.
Seventy-five percent of children have a positive response to the first ADHD medication they try. About 90-percent will respond to the second or third.
Then, in conjunction with behavior therapy, it can make an enormous difference to a child's success in school, socially … really, all arenas.
Are there things a parent can do in addition to medication to boost their effectiveness of medication and reduce ADHD symptoms?
Exercise is helpful in increasing focus on that day and we always recommend healthy lifestyles, but it is not a substitute for medication. In terms of diet, there is no evidence that special food diets make any difference in attention and hyperactivity.
One thing that has been shown to increase focus is if the child is in an environment with fewer children and, of course, having good support with caregivers and providers who are knowledgeable about different behavioral interventions.
We do hear about ADHD drugs making their way into the wrong hands. Is that a big problem or just one that gets publicity?
It’s truly a problem. In fact, an epidemic. Remember that most drugs used to treat ADHD are stimulants. Two of them, Ritalin and Adderall, are in the same class as morphine and codeine. Thus, a high potential for abuse.
Beyond the "high,” unfortunately some students and athletes abuse the drugs thinking they are performance enhancers. But actually, the efforts people go to get these amphetamines may be for naught. They make you feel like you're on top of the world, but studies show kids are not performing any better than without the drugs.