Misdiagnosing A.D.H.D.

Stephen P. Hinshaw and Richard M. Scheffler, professors at the University of California, Berkeley, warn in yesterday's New York Times ("Expand Pre-K, Not A.D.H.D.") about the potential side effects of an impending expansion of early childhood education. According to the authors, "[A]s health policy researchers, we want to raise a major caveat: Unless we're careful, today's preschool bandwagon could lead straight to an epidemic of 4- and 5-year-olds wrongfully told that they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder."

The problem, note the professors,

is that millions of American children have been labeled with A.D.H.D. when they don’t truly have it. Our research has revealed a worrisome parallel between our nation’s increasing push for academic achievement and increased school accountability — and skyrocketing A.D.H.D. diagnoses, particularly for the nation’s poorest children.

For example, we found that in public schools, A.D.H.D. diagnoses of kids within 200 percent of the federal poverty level jumped 59 percent after accountability legislation passed, compared with under 10 percent for middle- and high-income children. There was no such trend in private schools, which are not subject to legislation like this.

By age 17, nearly one in five American boys and one in 10 girls has been told that they have A.D.H.D. That comes to 6.4 million children and adolescents — a 40 percent increase from a decade ago and more than double the rate 25 years ago. Nearly 70 percent of these kids are prescribed stimulant medications.

Most teachers I know share Hinshaw's and Scheffler's concern and are troubled by the way that students are overprescribed. I hope the professors' warnings are heeded.  


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