Did the No Child Left Behind Act Boost ADHD Diagnosing?


The increasing use of psychiatric medications in toddlers, particularly of stimulants for ADHD, is explored by journalist Josiah Hesse on Substance.com. Looking into possible explanations, Hesse discusses a New York Times Magazine article from last year, in which University of California-Berkeley psychologist Stephen Hinshaw revealed that ADHD diagnosing began its steepest rise right after the No Child Left Behind Act was passed.

The 2013 New York Times article stated, “The No Child Left Behind Act… was the first federal effort to link school financing to standardized-test performance [but particular states had passed similar laws earlier in time]… When Hinshaw compared the rollout of these school policies with incidences of A.D.H.D., he found that when a state passed laws punishing or rewarding schools for their standardized-test scores, A.D.H.D. diagnoses in that state would increase not long afterward.” The article further notes that, in some school districts, an ADHD diagnosis results in that child’s test score being removed from the school’s official average.

On Substance.com, Hesse also discusses the disparity between diagnoses in rich and poor. “In addition to the 10,000 toddlers being issued stimulants under Medicaid (available to families and individuals who make up to 133% of the poverty line), Visser’s study also shows that 4,000 children with private insurance were being given similar treatment over the same 12-month period,” writes Hesse. “The glaring disparity between the numbers of diagnoses in the poor group and those in the more affluent one raise questions about the potential link between poverty and an increase in labeling very young kids with ADHD and giving them an unproven pill treatment.”

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Overprescribed ADHD Drugs? (Substance.com, October 1, 2014)

The Not-So-Hidden Cause Behind the A.D.H.D. Epidemic (New York Times Magazine, October 15, 2013)