By Robert L. Mues   |   August 27th, 2016

Study Reveals Children Diagnosed With ADD and ADHD Saw Increase In The Last 5 Years. But Experts Question Findings

NOTE: I want to thank Attorney Danielle Peterson for all her help researching and collaborating with me on this blog article! Originally from Helena, MT, Ms. Peterson received her B.A. in Sociology from Carroll College, and her J.D. from the University of Idaho College of Law. She is currently licensed to practice law in the State of California.

Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at the Children’s Medical Center of Dayton.  For more of his columns, join Dr. Ramey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/drgregramey. Dr. Ramey has been a guest contributor to the Ohio Family Blog since 2007.

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On August 6, 2016, The Dayton Daily News ran an article by Dr. Gregory Ramey entitled, “Things I Don’t Understand.”  While I found myself nodding along to many points made by Dr. Ramey, numbers 1 and 2 really got me thinking:

  1. “Why Are So Many Kids Diagnosed With Attention Deficit Disorder?”
  2. “Are Kids Being Over-Medicated By Well-Meaning Professionals As A Way To Pacify Parents Looking For An Easy Solution To Behavioral Problems?”

In discussing these issues, Psychologist Dr. Ramey at Dayton Children’s Hospital, noted the recent increase of children being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  Studies reveal that 11% of kids between the ages of 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADD, which is a 42% increase in the last 5 years.  Such an increase has obviously also resulted in an increase in the amount of children on medication for the disorder.

Dr. Ramey questioned if this disorder has actually grown in the last 20 years, or if active children (boys in particular), are simply being misdiagnosed by doctors who mean well, but in the end are just trying to appease parents?  Are these parents just looking for help for their children who may have behavioral issues?  Why aren’t parents seeking out non-medication options?  And why isn’t the medical community advocating harder for such treatments?

In an article in Psychiatry Advisor, Dr. Sanford Newmark reiterated the concerns of Dr. Ramey.  While he also discussed the general increase in children being diagnosed, he specifically pointed to the fact that from 2003 to 2011 the prevalence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) increased by approximately 35%, and that more than 20% of all high school-aged boys have been told at some point that they have ADHD.

Dr. Newmark questioned whether this large percentage of our children has always had these conditions but society just missed it? Or whether some genetic shift has taken place causing the rise in ADHD?  Ultimately however, he concluded that the increase is not caused by either of these, but is instead attributed to, 1- the over diagnosis through inadequate evaluation and societal pressure for treatment, and 2- a significant increase in the demands being made on our children, schools and families.  

The article states that ADD and ADHD diagnoses depend on the context the child is in. Therefore, two children having the same traits and behaviors could receive different diagnoses based on their social and educational environments.

Because reaching such a diagnosis can and should take time, Newmark explains that all too often doctors rush through ruling out other possible explanations for active children due to growing pressures to offer a quick fix. Teachers pressure parents, who in turn pressure doctors to diagnose and prescribe medication.

These pressures may be one reason childhood diagnoses of ADD and ADHD have been steadily climbing in Ohio.  A report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention detailed the percentage of children diagnosed and on medication between 2003 and 2011.  In particular, each state’s information was presented and compared in the article entitled, “Parent-reported diagnosis of ADHD by a health care provider and medication treatment among children 4-17 years: National Survey of Children’s Health- 2003 to 2011.”  Ohio’s profile demonstrates that in 2003, the percentage of parents with a child who had at some point received an ADD/ADHD diagnosis was 8.9% compared to the national percentage of 7.8.  In 2011, Ohio’s percentage reached 14.2 while the national percentage was a mere 11%.

In addition, in 2007 and 2011 parents were asked if they “currently” had a child with an ADD/ADHD diagnosis.  The study showed that in 2007, 9.4% of kids in Ohio “currently” had one of the diseases making it the 9th highest ranking state in the nation.  In 2011, 11.6% of Ohio children “currently” had ADD/ADHD, which put Ohio in the 7th spot for highest number of diagnoses in the nation at that time.

With the increasing number of diagnoses, the number of children on medication for such increased as well.   In keeping with the trend, the number of kids in Ohio on ADD and ADHD meds in 2007 and 2011 was higher than the national average.  Clearly, this growing trend of childhood diagnosis and treatment of ADD/ADHD is overwhelming present here in our own state.

While many issues are centered on the medical aspects of child ADD/ADHD and their treatment, my concerns lie within the legal system and how these child diagnoses are handled by the courts. In particular, why does it seem that some Judges have a bias against parents (typically fathers), who do not think their children have ADD/ADHD or need medication for such?  For example, what if a couple going through a divorce and custody dispute, doesn’t agree on whether their child has ADD/ADHD, not to mention whether they should be taking medication for it?  If an active child is struggling with his parent’s separation and acting out and Mom takes him to the doctor looking for help from the medical community – what happens if the child is misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD?  What if Mom doesn’t attempt non-medication solutions?  To top it off, what if Mom has temporary custody?

Later on at the hearing, if Dad voices his concerns about the diagnosis of the child and the treatment of such, is he now a “bad” father for not wanting to “help” his kid?  Is he not acting in the child’s best interest if he questions the diagnosis and wants to pursue non-medication solutions?  Should the court hold Dad’s opinions against him?  Ultimately, should this be a factor in deciding custody or parenting time?

How Should The Legal System And Society Handle ADD and ADHD Cases?

I believe that this situation of over medication of children should be made better known to society. My thanks to Dr. Ramey and Dr. Newmark for their efforts in this regard.   It seems that parents (more often fathers) are at a disadvantage when they challenge their child’s ADD diagnosis and treatment in court proceedings. This may well be a vestige of old law that Mothers were the preferred custodial parent over Fathers.  Hopefully, this information may help both Courts and society to become more informed about not assuming a parent who disagrees with an ADD or ADHD diagnosis is just in “denial” about the child’s needs!

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Robert L. MuesAbout The Author: Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.

ADD & ADHD Divorce Court Bias Against Parents?
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