Recent studies show that an alarming 11% of children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. These statistics raise legitimate concerns regarding the over-diagnosis of this mental health disorder and, in turn, the over-prescribing of psychotropic stimulant medications for children. Positively speaking, these numbers represent an increase in awareness among parents and professionals alike, that ADHD does in fact exist and that these children are not just lazy or bad, but are struggling with a very real chemical issue in the brain that directly effects they way they behave and interact with others. On the flip side however, it also reflects a darker, more serious problem that our industry is struggling with, and has been struggling with for some time… a pressure to diagnose, not only meet the needs of rapid evaluation requirements and managed care compensation, but because of limited access or availability to appropriate community based resources and programs.
Jennifer Loughran, a child and adolescent counselor at Polaris Counseling says, “While I agree that a number of people benefit from this diagnosis and the medication, I also believe that the least restrictive measure should be attempted first. In this case, the least restrictive measure is cognitive behavioral therapy. This involves teaching new skills to work through the inattentiveness and overactive behaviors. It often seems that mental health professionals find it is easier to prescribe a medication than to teach a person through a system of reinforcement and consequences how to change that behavior. For that reason alone we do find a high amount of children diagnosed and medicated. The reality is a system of reinforcement can be very realistic in a busy lifestyle at home and its benefits lasts a lifetime. By teaching a child to change their behaviors through a reinforcement system you are teaching them a skill that many adults do on a regular basis for themselves without putting much thought into the reality of what they are doing.”
“Unfortunately, children are more often the target of being labeled ADHD due to low functioning in school and not being able to focus for sufficient periods of time in the classroom, ultimately leading to teachers suggesting the child be assessed. While it is important for all children to receive the services and/or medication that they need, it is also important to attempt to modify or change the behaviors prior to assessing for a diagnosis and medication. If you feel your child is struggling with inattention and hyperactivity, I encourage you to first try developing a reinforcement system around your child’s interests to attempt changing the behaviors that are affecting the daily functioning of your child.”