The prevalence of ADHD in children and youth has been increasing immensely in recent decades; however, according to a study in the Journal of Attention Disorders, that’s because clinicians are more likely to diagnose it, not because more children and youth are having symptoms of ADHD.
Daniel Safer of the Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reviewed 6 parent surveys and 12 outpatient physician office visit surveys, and contrasted those with 26 sets of systematic ratings of behaviors associated with ADHD from teachers, parents, and students, all done between 1985 and 2015. He found that while teachers, parents, and self-reporting students have apparently detected largely the same rates of behaviors associated with ADHD in children and youth over these decades, the prevalence of diagnoses of ADHD have increased.
“The major finding of this review is that whereas the diagnostic prevalance of ADHD in youth increased in recent years, the temporal prevalence of its associated features did not,” concluded Safer.
In his discussion section, Safer commented that, “The prevalence of clinician-reported diagnoses of ADHD in the community over the last 25 years in the United States has increased generally in tandem with increased rates of ADHD medication treatment. This relationship appears to be bidirectional; drug therapy increased the diagnosis of ADHD and vice versa.” He also discussed how “diagnostic rates of ADHD have been altered by changes in categorical definitions, drug response, reported side effects, treatment options, marketing, public attitudes, and social circumstances.”
Safer, Daniel J. “Is ADHD Really Increasing in Youth?” Journal of Attention Disorders, June 17, 2015, 1087054715586571. doi:10.1177/1087054715586571. (Abstract)