View Full Version : Time Article: ADHD Isn't a Metaphor

04-15-13, 07:39 PM
Some may remember Judith Warner from this

I thought this was an excellent response to the recent NY Times piece asserting that one in five students have been diagnosed with ADHD:

The default response, every time we get news about any sort of uptick in the diagnosis and treatment of children’s mental disorders, is to issue condemnations of bad parents, bad doctors, bad teachers, and bad schools. (Not to mention big bad pharma, of course, which, it seems, will never rise from the bed of nails it has built for itself over the years.)

A more thoughtful response would be to ask what the rise means. Are more children with the disorder who previously went unnoticed — girls, African Americans, Latinos, notably — now being identified and counted? We know that’s true, and it accounts for some of the rise. Does the increased social acceptability of the ADHD diagnosis mean that it’s the “label” doctors are most likely to stick on kids who, in addition to distractibility, have a whole host of more scary-sounding problems, in the hope of getting reluctant parents to sign on for some sort of treatment? Does the decreased stigma surrounding ADHD (the commonly-heard, “everyone has it, so it’s no big deal” view) mean that parents who’ve been told their kids have “attention issues” in addition to, say, a learning disability or a mood disorder, will cling to — and report to survey-wielding researchers — just the banal-sounding ADHD label?

And, much more troublingly, are children who don’t have the disorder now being diagnosed and treated for it? And, if so, where is this happening, how is it happening, and why?

The raw, unanalyzed, not-yet-peer-reviewed numbers that the New York Times, bizarrely, led the paper with last week don’t answer any of those questions. And since the CDC won’t verify their accuracy (precisely because they haven’t yet finished processing their own numbers), I’m not going to repeat them here. And I don’t need to. Previous surveys have shown a steady rise in the rate of ADHD diagnoses over the years. Previous research has also raised disturbing questions about the possibility that some children without actual ADHD are now being diagnosed and medicated for it.