Advocacy for early childhood education is rapidly gaining momentum, taking center stage as a bipartisan cause. However, some health policy experts are now concerned that the expansion of preschool programs could coincide with an issue of epidemic proportion: the overdiagnosis of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
As government funded programs acquire traction, millions of three-to-five year old children are anticipated to enroll; however, research conducted by Dr. Stephen Hinshaw, professor of Psychology at University of California, Berkeley and Dr. Richard Scheffler, professor of Health Economics and Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley indicate this milieu can become a breeding ground for ADHD propaganda. Their op-ed in the New York Times presents an already troublesome correlation between fostering greater academic achievement, accountability and ADHD overdiagnosis, especially in low-income populations. The authors conclude: 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. These results suggest early childhood education programs may have already subscribed to the ADHD diagnosis, while attempting to meet academic standards.
In a preschool setting, the marketing of ADHD infects the most susceptible consumers: parents and teachers. Desperately searching for anything to help their children stay in school productively, guardians and educators are unduly affected by misleading advertising set in place by large drug companies.
A 2013 New York Times article, The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder, highlights how pharmaceutical producers of ADHD drugs such as Adderall, Concerta, Focalin, and Vyvanse exaggerate potential symptoms of the disorder to include carelessness and impatience. According to Dr. Hinshaw, and Dr. Scheffler, compounding with pharmaceutical advertising is support from the American Academy of Pediatrics to begin ADHD diagnosis at the age of four. In fact they emphasize that pharmacotherapies for attention disorders are available for treatment for children as young as three.
The rationale is early diagnosis leads to greater relief, preventing accidents and physical injuries. However, as we expand early education for all children, we must resist chalking up social misbehavior or scholastic shortcomings to a clinical manifestation. By age 17 ¦64 million children and adolescents are diagnosed with ADHD, representing a 40 percent increase from a decade ago and more than double the rate 25 years ago.
Dr. Hinshaw and Dr. Scheffler therefore caution that families, teachers, and physicians must remain careful approaching definitive diagnosis and treatment for ADHD. Over-diagnosis of ADHD has the potential to create a larger problem, in an effort to erase another.
ACSH s Dr. Gil Ross noted that these influences may be one significant factor in the skyrocketing rates of ADHD and related neurodevelopmental ailments, rather than such hypothetical or agenda-based etiologies as vaccines, trace levels of chemicals, etc.