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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Is ADHD Real?

By Camille Noe Pagán
WebMD Feature

Do you know someone who questions whether ADHD exists? Or do you have doubts yourself?

All the major medical groups -- including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and National Institutes of Health -- recognize attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as a valid condition that should be treated.

But there are some people, including some doctors and therapists, who disagree.

Type “Is ADHD fake?” or “ADHD critics” into a search engine, and you’ll get pages of articles saying it’s a “controversy.” These include books and articles in mainstream media.

Some say the problem starts with how the condition is diagnosed.

Too Many Cases?

Critics question the high number of cases of ADHD.

“In most European countries, you don’t see children diagnosed with ADHD anywhere near the rate that American kids are,” says Marilyn Wedge, PhD, author of A Disease Called Childhood.

It’s true that more people have been diagnosed in recent years. This may partly be because more people know about it and because the guidelines that health care professionals use to diagnose the condition changed in 2013.

Is It Really ADHD?

Another issue is that “kids are often misdiagnosed,” says Richard Saul, MD. He wrote ADHD Does Not Exist, and is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Neurology.

“There’s no question that the symptoms of ADHD are real,” Saul says. But he points out that “there are a large number of illnesses and health problems that can [cause] those symptoms.”

Common issues that can cause hyperactivity and attention problems include sleep disorders, depression, and hearing and vision problems, Saul says.

A Challenging Diagnosis

There are no lab tests for ADHD. You can’t get an MRI brain scan to find out if you have it.

Instead, a doctor or therapist considers your health history, the symptoms you tell him about, the ones he might notice while observing you, and what other people who know you well (usually your family and your child’s school teachers) say. He may use the “Conners’ Teacher Rating Scale” or the “Vanderbilt questionnaire” to rate how often certain behaviors happen and how much of a problem they are, such as:

  • Doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Has trouble organizing tasks and activities
  • Has trouble waiting in line

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