ADHD Diagnoses on the Rise in an Age of Distraction 

What Women Really Think
March 20 2012 12:30 PM

ADHD Diagnoses Increase in an Age of Distraction 

127841101
What's behind the uptick in ADHD diagnoses in children?

Photo by Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images.

A new study from the March/April edition of Academic Pediatrics reports that the number of American children diagnosed with ADHD in doctors’ offices reached 10.4 million in 2010—a 66 percent increase from 2000, when the number was 6.2 million. The diagnosis now appears in 14 percent of the under-18 population of the United States, up from 9 percent in 2000.

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

Author study Craig Garfield, a professor and pediatrician, also followed trends in ADHD treatment between 2000 and 2010, mapping the frequency with which certain drugs were prescribed onto the release of public health advisories from the FDA. He found that the use of psychostimulants like Ritalin declined by 9 percent over the decade, possibly because FDA reports had roused concerns about the pills’ side effects (including suicidal ideation and cardiac problems—though recent experiments have failed to substantiate that last fear).

Advertisement

Moreover, the study showed that specialists, rather than general pediatricians, were increasingly beginning to shoulder the responsibility of treating and managing kids with ADHD. While this development speaks to the rising quality of care, it may also be opening a gap between families that can afford psychiatric services for their ADHD children and those that can’t.

For his part, Garfield attributes the rise in ADHD cases to greater awareness among doctors, parents, and teachers. On the margins, he says, ADHD can be hard to distinguish from a typical bout of childish hyperactivity. But over time pediatricians can develop a feel for the “norm” and what lies outside it.

This assumes that there was not an actual increase in the number of people with ADHD between 2000 and 2010—just better diagnosis. But if incidence is actually on the rise, perhaps the Internet bears some responsibility for the apparent uptick? Many argue that constant exposure to Web devices erodes our ability to focus and makes us jumpy and impatient. Garfield observes that mental disorder is often a question of degree. Might incessant Internet use, combined with a natural tendency towards hyperactivity and distraction, be pushing more kids over the ADHD line?

Garfield demurs: It’s too soon to tell. Our brains have evolved over thousands of years—and we’ve battled attention and impulsivity issues, well, forever. No doubt, some children are bound to struggle with ADHD regardless of their environment. Still. “Would the constant flow of digital information exacerbate the problem? Actually, that would make an interesting experiment,” he mused.

Stay tuned, if you can.  

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.