Could Adults' Expectations Up Kids' ADHD Rates?
Rates of disorder have risen alongside increasing academic demands, researchers say
By Amy Norton
TUESDAY, Feb. 23, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have risen globally, and adults' unreasonable expectations of young children could be one reason why, researchers suggest.
Reporting in the Feb. 22 issue of JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Miami point to evidence that the rise in ADHD diagnoses coincided with ever-growing demands on young children's attention and focus.
Since the 1970s, the researchers said, elementary school children have been getting more and more homework, while preschoolers have spent more time in full-day programs -- and getting coached in reading and numbers by mom and dad.
During those same years, the prevalence of ADHD doubled in the United States.
Of course, many other things have also changed since the 1970s, and it's not possible to pin the rise of ADHD on any one trend, said lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey Brosco, associate director of the university's Mailman Center for Child Development. His research letter only points to an association and not cause-and-effect.
But, Brosco said, it makes sense that greater academic pressure would set the stage for more ADHD diagnoses.
"You may have a young child who has difficulty paying attention to boring things," Brosco said. "That's only a problem if you're trying to force that child to pay attention to boring things."
"In the U.S.," he added, "we've decided that increasing children's academic demands is a good thing. But we haven't really considered the potential negative effects."
A child psychologist not involved in the study agreed there's a "plausible" connection between academic expectations and ADHD diagnoses.
It's not that homework is causing ADHD, said Stephanie Wagner, an assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone's Child Study Center in New York City.
ADHD is a "neurobiological" disorder, Wagner said, which means it's brain-based, and not caused by environmental factors.
"But we do know that the environment can exacerbate symptoms," she added.
So the more time that children with ADHD have to sit, do homework and have no freedom for play, Wagner said, the more difficulty they'll have -- and the more apparent that will be to adults.