The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Institute of Health, and millions of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder sufferers all agree on one point: ADHD is a valid condition that requires timely diagnosis and treatment. The symptoms of ADHD (such as hyperactivity, attentional difficulties, and impulsivity) are, after all, fairly clear-cut. Moreover, the disorder has been shown to respond favorably to targeted therapies and medication.
For most people in the above groups, the continuing controversy surrounding ADHD is perplexing – particularly given the fact that ADHD was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) over thirty years ago.
At the same time, however, ADHD critics raise valid points: If ADHD is simply a natural variation endemic to human physiology, why have ADHD rates risen so dramatically in recent years? (According to the CDC, ADHD rates in the USA rose from 7.8% in 2003 to 11.0% in 2012.)
More puzzling still, what could account for the fact that people are diagnosed with ADHD in the United States far more often than in any other developed nation?
Even within the United States, there are peculiar regional variations. Available data suggests that children in North Carolina, for example, are twice as likely to get ADHD as children in California. The reasons for such differences are unclear, leading many critics to suggest that the criteria for diagnosing ADHD must be highly arbitrary.
While many critics are quick to dissect why ADHD is being diagnosed at such alarming rates, part of the problem undoubtedly lies in how ADHD is being diagnosed.