ADHD: Diagnosis or Misdiagnosis? According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in every 10 children has been diagnosed with ADHD. Two-thirds of these children are taking prescription drugs for this condition. 5.9 million children from the age of 3 through 17 have been diagnosed since the CDC began keeping the records.
I don’t know about you, but I think these numbers are staggering and worrisome. I also think they’re wildly exaggerated. Exaggerated because the diagnosis isn’t always accurate. And if the diagnosis isn’t accurate, then a lot of children are taking medication for something they don’t have. Maybe your child? There is no blood test for ADHD. No x-ray for ADHD. No culture or biopsy for ADHD. The diagnosis is essentially anecdotal, based on questions from the DSM5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition). The answers to the questions about a child’s behavior usually come from parents.
Unfortunately, the answers to the questions can also describe something that isn’t ADHD, including serious illness. For example, a child who is diagnosed as having ADHD without hyper activity could have diabetes instead.
In addition to how loosely we all use the terms “ADD” and “ADHD,” every expert (and lots of non-experts) has a pet theory of what “causes” ADHD. A few of these theories blamed for "causing" ADHD include:
Poor diet and too much junk food
Poor parenting skills
School is boring
School is too hard
None of the above "cause" ADHD but some can cause behavior that looks like ADHD. Vaccinations are not a cause, nor are teachers and schools to blame.
Many other factors, such as diet, when corrected will help with both ADHD and Misdiagnosis and sometimes completely get rid of ADHD symptoms. Although it can seem confusing to sort out, parents can make the task easier by tackling only one factor at a time.
In my experience, the four biggest culprits causing ADHD-like behavior and the easiest to nail down are:
1. Lack of sleep
2. Too much TV, especially before bed time
3. Too much sugar and junk food saturated with artificial coloring accompanied by skipping breakfast
4. Lack of daily vigorous exercise
I had a teenage client who got over his insomnia and greatly reduced his ADHD symptoms by doing nothing more than taking the TV out of his bed room and not watching TV within an hour of going to bed.
Another client threw out all the food in her cabinets containing Red Dye 40. Her daughter’s ADHD-like symptoms disappeared within just a few days after she stopped eating anything with Red Dye 40. (Red Dye 40 is common and not limited to food that’s red.)
No, I’m not an MD. My client stories are 2nd hand and anecdotal. Hardly statistically significant. But, I suggest to you that the four “culprits” I’ve listed can easily be investigated and corrected without a doctor’s permission or prescription.
The distinction between ADHD and ADHD-like symptoms is important since stimulant drugs aren’t appropriate for Misdiagnosis. However, these drugs may be appropriate for ADHD. So it is always important to rule out factors that can cause ADHD-like behavior before putting kids on ADHD meds. Sadly, this is rarely done. Unless these factors are ruled out, we put our children at risk of taking powerful drugs for a condition they don't have. Often kids who do not have ADHD but are put on stimulant drugs for ADHD either have serious side effects or the drugs don’t help.
On the other hand, most non-drug alternatives will help with both ADHD-like symptoms and ADHD. Non-drug strategies, programs, activities, and behavior modification can help kids pay attention, focus, and help them to be less hyperactive, less dreamy and help with impulsivity.
Once all the other factors have been ruled out and non-drug alternatives haven’t helped, then comes the time to look at ADHD drugs.
Always insist on a complete and thorough physical exam before agreeing to put your child on these drugs. Describe your child’s behavior to the pediatrician and avoid mentioning ADHD.
You can get a complimentary copy of “Maybe They Don’t Have ADHD After All: 12 Common Conditions that Can Cause ADHD-like Behavior”
Discover what might be causing your child’s symptoms before agreeing to ADHD drugs.
Dr. Mary Jo Wagner, a Smart Learning Specialist, and ADHD expert, helps you help your kids manage ADHD and ADHD-like behavior. She’s a dynamic, experienced coach, teacher, trainer, and writer. Mary Jo has taught Smart Learning (aka brain-based learning) and Brain Gym® to parents, teachers, administrators, occupational therapists, and counselors, even rowdy teenagers in Guatemala.