Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a clinical disorder characterized by impulsive behavior and an inability to pay attention. Approximately four percent of adults and nine percent of children have been diagnosed with the disorder, and it affects boys four times as much as girls. Children with ADHD are more likely to have conflicts with their peers, more likely to be injured in accidents, and less likely to do well in school. ADHD diagnoses have become increasingly common in recent years. Prevalence among children varies substantially from state to state: it is lower on the west coast (Nevada has the lowest rate of four percent) and highest in Mississippi valley region (Kentucky has the highest rate of almost 19%). Depending on the region, anywhere between half and two-thirds of children diagnosed with ADHD are prescribed medication.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Most children get distracted, act impulsively, and struggle to concentrate at one time or another. Sometimes, these normal factors may be mistaken for ADHD.” In order to be diagnosed with the disorder, a licensed health professional must determine that a person consistently behaves in this way, to the point that it has a strong adverse affect on their life.
However, because of the similarities between the disorder’s symptoms and the normal behavioral problems that most people struggle with, ADHD is controversial. Many people feel that parents who never learned how to control their children will seek a diagnosis of ADHD. Others say that the enforced rigors of a modern childhood–such as sitting in a chair all day long at school–are contrary to what children naturally like to do, so it’s understandable if they respond by being impulsive and not paying attention.
Furthermore, the nature of the disorder is not well understood by the public. Is ADHD considered to be a cause of the problematic behavior, in the same way that the flu virus is the cause of feverish symptoms? Or is ADHD the label we put on those behaviors? Presumably, these questions are also controversial among professionals.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How do you feel about ADHD? Do you think it’s over-diagnosed?
Do you know anyone who has been diagnosed with ADHD? How do they feel about their condition? Do they take medication for it?
In what ways do you think mental illnesses can be different from physical illnesses?
ADHD is a psychological condition that affects millions of people, though its precise nature, causes and solutions are not yet well understood.