Medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has been on the rise among adults, children and adolescents for the past two decades in the United States, according to a 2008 study conducted by Meika Loe and Leigh Cuttino, called “Grappling with the Medicated Self: The Case of A.D.H.D. College Students.” This trend is predominately American and is a “cultural strategy utilized to ensure academic success.”
Dr. Michael Anderson, a pediatrician for many financially troubled families in Cherokee County, Ga., recently told a reporter for The New York Times that he prescribes ADHD medication to children and pre-teens in hopes of treating poor academic performance in inadequate schools, not because they have ADHD.
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” Anderson said. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So, we have to modify the kid.”
Miriam Mulsow, a program evaluation professor at Texas Tech University, said that it would be hard to find people with that attitude in Lubbock. But, there are doctors in Lubbock who think that if you give a child ADHD medication and it works, then that means the child has ADHD.
“It’s been happening for a long time with kids who are in families where they are being abused or neglected,” Mulsow explained. “What happens is, a child, particularly it seems a little more for a boy, is to act out in a way that is very similar to the way a person who is hyperactive might.”
Mulsow said she first became interested in ADHD when her youngest son was diagnosed with it while she working on her Ph.D. and studying child abuse. She noticed that some of the characteristics of ADHD were similar to those of neglected children.
“There are situations in which a child is being diagnosed with ADHD when really what they have is parents going through a divorce, or something that is causing them a lot of stress,” Mulsow said. “Or, in some cases, there are places where parents will want their kid to be put on medication for ADHD to give them a little bit of an edge in school. That’s not real common, but it does happen.”
Other alternatives to ADHD medication for children with psychological issues do exist, Mulsow said. If school districts and families had the resources, these children would benefit from more one-on-one attention and treatment.
“There was a study done a while back that looked at the rate of diagnosis of ADHD and it said that the rate of diagnosis is probably fairly close to correct,” Mulsow said, “but the children who actually have ADHD — it’s the wrong kids getting diagnosed in some cases.”
On the other side of the issue, some children get labeled as a “behavior problem” when the real problem is ADHD, Mulsow said.
“If you went into any third grade class and gave every child in the class medication for ADHD, you would find a more focused and well-behaved class,” Mulsow said. “That doesn’t mean that every child in the class had ADHD.”