Why Are We Seeing an Explosion in ADHD Among Children?

For as long as it has been around, ADHD has been a controversial diagnosis. Many people, parents and grandparents in particular, wonder why there were no ADHD children in their classrooms when they were children and now suddenly they seem to be everywhere. What has changed so much about children and where did ADHD come from?

One major change that has led to the proliferation of ADD diagnoses is the ubiquity of psychiatry and psychiatric services. Compared to 50 or 100 years, advances in psychiatry have determined that many behavioral problems, from nervousness to hyperactivity, are actually disorders that can be labeled and treated, whether with drugs or even cognitive behavioral therapy, as is the case with many anxiety disorders. Psychiatrists say that ADHD itself has always been around, it’s just the label “ADHD” that hasn’t.

ADHD is a developmental disorder that is characterized by poor attention skills and hyperactive behavior. Children with ADHD struggle to focus on tasks that they need to complete at home or school and are prone to outbursts of energy that can be disruptive in various social situations. At present, 3-5% of children globally are diagnosed with ADHD and it is one of the most commonly discussed and studied psychiatric disorders.

As with many psychiatric diagnoses, the big debate in ADHD is whether it is a disorder caused by nature or nurture-it is a biological disorder or a maladaptive social disorder? On the one hand, many researchers claim that it has biological roots that can only be treated with drugs like Ritalin. Opponents of the biological approach claim that it does not take into account the social changes that have accompanied ADHD’s rise, such as longer, more regulated days in school and homes in which both parents work. The believe that ADHD is a cry for attention due to a society that does not allow them to get their needs met, but simply lines them up for pharmaceutical companies.

So what is the truth behind the nature vs. nurture debate? Probably a little bit of both. Drugs have been shown to help children diagnosed with ADHD, but there is also proof that ADHD can be attenuated by lifestyle and dietary changes. ADHD is a hotly debated topic and will continue to be in the future as people become increasingly suspicious of the health profession’s tie to the pharmaceutical industry. However, whether or not you prescribe to nature or nurture, ADHD is a very real disorder for the millions who suffer from it, so it is important that we don’t stigmatize them-we must continue to look for ways to help them have a better quality of life.

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