Is ADHD Overdiagnosed?

By Eileen Bailey

The diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder began around 1980. It was not the first time a diagnosis was given to hyperactivity in children; it is when the American Psychiatric Association adopted the name that is currently used. Symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, have been documented in medical science since the mid 1800s. Prior to 1980, ADHD was known by various names: Hyperkinetic Disorder of Childhood or Minimal Brain Dysfunction.


The American Psychiatric Association bases the current diagnostic criteria for ADHD on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The diagnostic criteria for ADHD include detailed information on how and when a diagnosis should be made. It provides information on symptoms as well as three specific subtypes and the symptoms related to each.


In many physical illnesses, there is an absolute diagnosis. This involves blood or laboratory tests that can definitively point to a specific problem. Based on this, physicians are able to target and treat specific illnesses. ADHD, and other mental illnesses, do not have a blood test that provides a definitive diagnosis. It is instead based on observation, by parents, teachers and caregivers. Questionnaires regarding behaviors in different environments help a doctor determine if a child, or adult, has ADHD. Doctors look not only on the behaviors, but how long they have been present and whether the behaviors are excessive or not age appropriate.


ADHD, however, is a legitimate diagnosis and can be accurately diagnosed by qualified physicians. ADHD is recognized around the world. In January 2002, an international consortium of scientists signed a consensus statement, which states, “We fear that inaccurate stories rendering ADHD as a myth, fraud or benign condition may cause thousands of sufferers not to seek treatment for their disorder. It also leaves the public with a general sense that this disorder is not valid or real or consists of a rather trivial affliction. We have created this consensus statement on ADHD as a reference on the status of the scientific findings of this disorder, its validity, and its adverse impact on the lives of those diagnosed with the disorder…” This consensus was signed by hundreds of scientists and physicians around the world. [5]

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