By Anne Dachel
Over the past week science has once again spoken on the declining health of children in the 21st century. And like the autism epidemic we celebrate every April, it’s nothing to really be concerned about, besides no one can explain why it’s happening anyway.
I’m talking about the findings that CNN, CNBC, Fox News, TIME and other sources announced recently, namely that 10% of kids today have ADHD, up from the previously accepted 6%.
The headlines sounded worrisome.
ABC NEWS: ADHD rates in kids have increased over the past 20 years, new study says
CNN: 10% of US children diagnosed with ADHD, study finds
Fox News: ADHD diagnoses may be rising in US
No need to panic. In the actual text, all of the reports immediately downplayed the new rate with a whole host of reasons that disprove any real increase. Most of them were right out of the THERE AREN’T REALLY MORE KIDS WITH AUTISM playbook that officials have used for years. And it always helps to have folks with lots of credentials from big name institutions to back up the claims.
ABC News: (The old “expanded spectrum” explanation.)
The way the disorder is evaluated likely plays a part.
"The diagnosis and assessment for ADHD has evolved over the past few decades. The diagnostic criteria that we use is now a little more liberal and captures cases that the older criteria would have left out," said Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Stanford Brainstorm, in an interview with ABC news.
CNN: (And of course there’s “better diagnosing” along with improvements in medicine.)
Advances in medical technology also may have contributed to the increase, according to the research. Twenty years ago, preterm or low-weight babies had a harder time surviving. Those factors increase the risk of being diagnosed with ADHD.
In interpreting their results, however, the study's authors tied the higher numbers to better understanding of the condition by doctors and the public, new standards for diagnosis and an increase in access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
Over the past several decades, Hinshaw said, there's been an expanded view of who can develop ADHD.
Fox News: (There’s also the possibility that it’s really misdiagnosing of other conditions as ADHD.)
"You really have to interpret the study with caution," said Amie Bettencourt, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine….. It's possible it's on the rise. But it’s also possible that these could be symptoms of something else.”
Bettencourt has seen a lot of misdiagnoses.
TIME: (Where would we be without “greater awareness”…and “less stigma”?)
…But the study suggests that heightened awareness of the condition and changing diagnostic criteria may partially explain the higher numbers. Better access to care and weakening stigmas around mental health care, particularly among minority populations, may have also led to more diagnoses, the authors write.
THIS IS THE REAL MESSAGE: the dramatic changes we’re seeing in the physical and mental health of children will never be recognized or addressed as such.
Don’t expect either the medical community or government health officials to ever sound worried. No matter how bad the numbers are, they don’t mean anything.
There will always be a confusing multitude of explanations for what’s happening, and officials will always be scratching their collective heads.
The media will continue to condition us to accept whatever we’re told.
Countless stories inform us that 20 percent of children today are mentally ill and 2 percent have autism. No one cares about those numbers. IF someone actually raised concerns, they’d be quickly shut down.
We either have to believe that there have been no real changes in kids’ health, OR else we have to believe that society is at fault.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have had the science since 1998 that shows adverse childhood experiences (ACEs—trauma kids are exposed to at home) are behind behavior changes, including ADHD. We’re to believe that children today live with MORE “TOXIC STRESS” than in past decades. This is why there’s more ADHD, along with all kinds of other physical and mental health problems.
More studies showing ACEs are linked to ADHD have been published over the past few years, for example:
Children with ADHD have higher ACE exposure compared with children without ADHD. There was a significant association between ACE score, ADHD, and moderate to severe ADHD. Efforts to improve ADHD assessment and management should consider routinely evaluating for ACEs.
Is the water muddy enough for you?
Yes, there is more ADHD being diagnosed in children, but that doesn’t mean more kids have ADHD. Maybe it’s just misdiagnosing, better diagnosing, greater awareness, less stigma, or a broader definition of the disorder.
OR maybe there really is MORE ADHD. If that’s the case then, it’s parents to blame.
Take your pick.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.