Can the Increase in ADHD Diagnosis Be Explained?

Health Writer

The significant and overwhelming increase in the number of people diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been highly debated over the past several decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people diagnosed with ADHD has increased by an average of 3% a year between 1997 and 2006. This has led to a number of speculations, including that ADHD is over-diagnosed and parents rely on a diagnosis rather than discipline.

There are, however, a number of explanations for the increase in the number of people being diagnosed with ADHD:

Both doctors and the public have become more aware of ADHD. Because of this, children and adults with symptoms of ADHD are more apt to seek out treatment and those with symptoms that may have been overlooked in the past are more apt to receive a diagnosis today.

Girls are diagnosed with ADHD. In the past, ADHD was most often diagnosed in boys with hyperactivity. ADD, inattentive type, was not considered as part of the diagnosis of ADHD. The understanding of the different subtypes of ADHD brought an expansion of symptoms and an increase in diagnosis. The inclusion of ADHD, inattentive type also includes boys and this expansion of the symptoms included an expansion in diagnosis.

ADHD was once thought of as a childhood disorder. As doctors and researchers became more aware that symptoms of ADHD continued into adolescence and adulthood, more and more people were diagnosed later. As children were diagnosed, parents were able to see symptoms in themselves and because of the increased awareness, were more likely to seek treatment for themselves than in the past.

Symptoms once seen as personality weaknesses are now considered to be symptoms of ADHD. Chronic disorganization, routine tardiness or constant underachievement were once thought of as personality weaknesses, however, these are all symptoms of ADHD, both in children and adults and with increased awareness may lead people to seek medical help.

Children born with low birth weight or born prematurely are more likely to survive today than in previous times due to medical advances. These factors place children at a higher risk of ADHD.

ADHD symptoms may be more noticeable in the modern world. In today's world, jobs requiring more physical work are not as prevalent as those requiring sustained attention. For example, many more jobs are based on computers. Jobs require people to sustain focus and attention as well as sitting in one place for extended periods of time. These are the areas that people with ADHD have the most problems. Some researchers believe that this change in our environment has caused people to be more aware of ADHD symptoms.

Home life may accentuate ADHD behaviors, leading to increased diagnosis. Parenting and home life are not a cause of ADHD, however, with two income families and children becoming more responsible at a younger age, the symptoms of ADHD, such as emotional immaturity, may be more noticeable.

Although the debate over the high increase in the number of children (and adults) being diagnosed with ADHD may continue, there is certainly many reasons why this increase has occurred. While none of these reasons alone may account for the increase, together they may answer the question.


"Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Data & Statistics", Last reviewed 2009, March 13, Division of Human Development, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"Myths and Facts About ADHD", Last Reviewed 2007, Feb 19, Reviewed by Rosemary Tannock, PhD, Peter Chaban, M.A.,

"Has There Been an Increase in ADHD?", 2006, Jan 27, Jeanette C. Ramer, M.D., Penn State University