The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

One in five kids with ADHD diagnosed by doctors improperly


All sorts of theories have been proposed to explain the alarming rise -- 6.4 million in 2011, a 42 percent jump from 2004 -- in schoolchildren being diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, requiring therapy, medicine or both to make it through their day.

Some believe it's simply a matter of more awareness (and paranoia) -- meaning that more parents are seeking a diagnosis. Others wonder if it's schools (they're more academic now than in the past, requiring kids to sit still for longer periods of time making those who have ADHD more obvious).

Still others blame the environment (all those chemicals we use). Or diet (yet another thing to blame on processed sugar).

Now a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brings up another possibility: improper diagnosis.

The CDC report takes an in-depth look at how children with ADHD came to get the label through a survey of 2,976 families. While in the majority of cases health care providers followed American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines when making a diagnosis, there was still a large number of children for whom these practices weren't followed.

In 18 percent of cases, the diagnosis was done solely on the basis of family members' reports, which is inconsistent with AAP recommendations that information be collected from individuals across multiple settings -- such as a teacher, piano instructor, or sports coach. Additionally, one out of every 10 children was diagnosed without the use of a behavior rating scale that is supposed to be administered.

The study also shows that children are getting diagnosed at an earlier age, with half being diagnosed at age 6 or below: 17.1 percent at age 6, 14.6 percent at age 5, and 16 percent at age 4 or younger.

Read more:

A new type of ADHD? Head injuries linked to long-term attention problems.

Autism, creativity and divergent thinking may go hand in hand

Scientists: Why running makes you so happy

America's love affair with caffeine has parked a crisis of overdoses -- and what the FDA is doing about it