Is ADHD Over-Diagnosed?

ADHD seems to be an epidemic these days. Why are so many children being diagnosed? Is ADHD over-diagnosed? Any do so many children really need to be on prescription medication? How will I know if my child has ADHD?

ADHD, like so many conditions that affect learning and achievement, can vary as far as the symptoms. Children, especially young children, are not attention rock stars. Nor should they be. But how do you know if your child’s attention is a real problem?

This is a complicated issue, and unfortunately there are few clear-cut answers. It may help to think of attention span using a bell curve. If you were to study a large enough sample of people, their attention span levels would fall like this:


At the far right end, we have the people who have unflappable attention. They can stay focused during the longest, most boring lecture.

They can stay focused on an excruciatingly dull-looking card or chess game.

They may even be able to watch a Nascar race on television, in entirety.

At the far left end, we have people who clearly have ADHD. They cannot focus, are constantly restless, daydream, space out, check out and/or can never remember anything.

The big bump in the middle represents 60% of the population. Most of us fall in this area…we can usually pay attention but may occasionally get bored and daydream, or feel restless.

So, what about that upward slope area, between the left tail and the hill? Those are the children who may or may not be diagnosed with ADHD, depending on the physician, the parents’ and teachers’ views and the expectations of the culture, school and home environment in which the children live.

So how do we, as parents, teachers and caregivers, think about children whose attention is questionable? Do they or do they not qualify as having ADHD? And do we want them to have the diagnosis?

Again, there are few neat and tidy answers whenever we talk about learning, achievement, well-being, ability and children…or people in general, for that matter. However, here are two key questions to ask if you are concerned about your child’s attention

  1. Is his attention span/impulse control/activity level drastically different from that of same-age peers?
  2. Is your child’s attention span—or lack thereof–causing problems in his life? Is it getting him or her in trouble? Is your child not achieving to the level you think he is capable of because of the attention issues?

Take the next week to ponder these questions… be back with more next Wednesday.

Ask Heather

Send Heather your question, and she’ll get back to you promptly.