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Is ADHD overdiagnosed and overmedicated? The answer may surprise you.

A 2016 survey indicated that 11% of US children are diagnosed with ADHD, and the vast majority of these are taking powerful psychiatric medications. Yet poor life outcomes are still predicted for children with the diagnosis: studies show that up to half of our prison population has an ADHD diagnosis (click here for article). The real question is not "are we overdiagnosing/overmedicating?" but, "does medication help at all?"

The resounding answer in my experience is "YES!" But only when the child actually has ADHD. I commonly use the comparison of NyQuil treating a cold. If you have a cold, NyQuil will clear you out for a better day--but if you don't have a cold, NyQuil will give you "medicine head" and ruin your day. Almost without exception, I have seen ADHD medications produce a miracle cure for behavioral and academic issues in children with the disorder. And they aren't "zombied out"--they are just free to be themselves. It's wonderful, and therapy can help ease the transition.

When a child does not have ADHD, however, giving out medications is like taking NyQuil without a cold. It doesn't work. And then, rather than seeking an alternate explanation for problem behaviors, medical providers often increase the dose until the child is in fact a zombie. What I see more often than not, when medications do not work, is that the child does not have ADHD. And, in these cases, family systems and developmental issues are usually the true problem.

Children who have developmental or attachment trauma (anything from sexual abuse to simply being in foster care) often have symptoms that closely resemble ADHD. Children with parents who have inconsistent or ineffective parenting skills usually have symptoms that mimic ADHD. Even the most scientific tool for diagnosis, the Vanderbilt NICHQ Assessment, does not fully take this into account as the origin of the problem. What is the solution? Therapy, by a specialized professional--specialized either in trauma therapy or family therapy.

Were I to go into detail on this, I would be re-writing the textbooks I read in my family therapy and trauma therapy training. The simple fact is, if you have a child with an ADHD diagnosis who is unresponsive to medication or therapy, contact me or any other qualified provider for a second opinion.

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