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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Why Doctors Are So Quick To Diagnose ADHD


About 10 percent of American children are diagnosed with ADHD. There’s evidence, though, that suggests many people who have been told they have the condition may not.

Today on Think, Krys Boyd talked with Alan Schwarz, author of “ADHD Nation: Children, Doctors, Big Pharma, and the Making of an American Epidemic,” about kids who are misdiagnosed.

The KERA Interview

Alan Schwarz on …

… the number of ADHD misdiagnoses:  

“The APA (American Psychiatric Association) says that ADHD affects about 5 percent of school-aged children. We’re diagnosing 15. I don’t mind accepting that it’s real because then we have to demand that medical professionals handle it properly, and right now even though some of the diagnoses are correct ... a lot of them are wrong. And who’s talking about them?"

…  how children are diagnosed:

“In order to diagnose a child appropriately, first of all they have to have all the behaviors or at least most of the behaviors associated with ADHD. And those are hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. And you’re supposed to take a long time to figure out how long these behaviors have been a problem. Can they be attributed to anything else?"

… other things that can be misdiagnosed as ADHD:

“There are a lot of things that can cause ADHD type behaviors or bring them about and you need to rule those things out. There’s anxiety. There’s sleep deprivation. There’s diet. There’s lack of exercise. I’m not saying a majority of ADHD cases can be solved with exercise or diet, but we skip all these other steps and jump to a very serious diagnosis.”  

… the cost of misdiagnosis:  

“Unfortunately, a lot of medical professionals will say, ‘You know what? I only have 40 minutes. I’m just going to do my best.’ And to me if you get it right, it’s heroic. If you get it wrong, that’s child abuse. We have to get more accurate in doing this because were telling millions of children, erroneously, that you have what is often described as a lifetime devastating brain disorder.”