A study conducted by Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Group in Pasadena, reveals that ADHD diagnoses have jumped 25% in the past 10 years. This study is being reported by news outlets around the country today. What is missing from these reports, however, it a critical analysis of the ADHD diagnosis itself. The phenomena of ADHD, in fact, represents a fascinating window into a wide range of cultural and social issues that have emerged over the past quarter century, but that typically get swept under the rug in reports such as this one. Here are just a few of these issues: 1) the increasing pressure on children to succeed academically at earlier and earlier ages has made the normal developmental behaviors of young children ”stick out like a sore thumb” and be perceived as ADHD behaviors; 2) the increase in mass media involvement (video games, TV, internet, software etc.) has created a culture of ”short attention span kids” who in fact display ADHD behaviors as a response to sitting in front of high stimulation screens that activate and ultimately exhaust dopaminergic pathways in the brain leading to an increase in the prevalence of ADHD diagnoses; 3) the concomitant decrease in the amount of rough-and-tumble play experienced (particularly among boys) as a result of mass media involvement has resulted in the frontal lobes failing to be properly stimulated through these play experiences, thus resulting in frontal lobe dysfunction said to be a major feature of the ADHD diagnosis; 4) high stress families have created negative environmentals impacts upon the brains of stress-sensitive kids creating adversity-factors believed to be correlated to ADHD diagnoses.
These are just a few of the issues that fail to be mentioned, let alone thoroughly explored, in news stories such as this one. That ADHD remains a ”medical” issue, unfortunately, makes it even more difficult for there to be a thoughtful dialogue about the deeper reasons that make children hyperactive, impulsive, and/or distractible. This, in turn, makes the potential solutions to the ADHD phenomenon more elusive. For a discussion of the above issues, and a more thorough discussion of non-drug alternatives to ADHD, see my book The Myth of the ADHD Child: 101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion.