North Texas Daily

ADHD is on the rise due to misdiagnosis, doctors say

ADHD is on the rise due to misdiagnosis, doctors say

ADHD is on the rise due to misdiagnosis, doctors say
February 06
10:49 2014

Caitlyn Jones // Staff Writer

A bouncy, blonde-haired girl runs up to a group of her second grade classmates.

“Hey!” she shouts. “Can I play with you guys?”

“No, Shannon,” they all say. “You’re way too hyper.”

Back then, 7-year-old Shannon Burkett didn’t understand. She went home and cried to her mother and father, like she had done so many times before. She didn’t think she was any different than the kids at her school and wondered why they acted so mean.

“I can get along with anyone you put me in a room with,” said Burkett, now a communications senior at UNT. “But I just didn’t get why the other kids didn’t want to be my friend. I was just happy to be there.”

Two years later she found out she was different. Burkett was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at the age of nine.

She is not alone.

According to a study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 42 percent increase in the number of reported cases of ADHD since 2003. The study also found that of people between ages four to 17, consisting of 6.4 million children, 11 percent have been diagnosed.

“People need to realize that it’s not just some disease,” Burkett said. “I’ve been lucky to have a support system within my family and friends but outsiders don’t get it.


Symptoms for the disorder are split into two categories: inattentive symptoms and hyperactive symptoms. Inattentive symptoms include getting distracted when doing homework and household tasks or continually losing things like keys or schoolwork. Hyperactive symptoms include talking excessively or being unable to remain still for long periods of time.

Six symptoms in one or both categories must be identified for six months in order to diagnose a child with one of the three types of ADHD: predominantly inattentive presentation, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation or combined presentation.

“The truth is A.D.D. doesn’t exist,” Denton psychologist Dr. Christen Clower said. “People who think they have ADHD really have the inattentive type of ADHD”

The study also found that more than half of the diagnoses were gone by age six. This has led to a belief that children can often be misdiagnosed because many symptoms are developmental benchmarks of childhood.

“Medicine says that you aren’t supposed to diagnose a child before seven but I’ve seen it diagnosed at four or five,” Clower said. “Some doctors diagnose early because the symptoms are very severe, they didn’t test thoroughly or they just want to give families an answer.”

Struggles in School

The rise in the number of ADHD cases can lead to trouble in the classroom beyond high school for some.

“The hardest classes are the political science classes and the history classes where it’s just lecture,” Burkett said. “I do better in interactive courses. I’m not saying I’m a creative genius or anything but my brain is just wired differently.”

Students who have ADHD often have trouble focusing in lecture classes but can get help from the Office of Disability Accommodations (ODA).

The ODA offers services to 973 students with disabilities on campus. ADHD accommodations make up nearly 40 percent of that number, helping 370 students. The number of total students registered has gone up 48 percent in the last three years, ODA director Ron Venable said.

Venable said this number is increasing because of a combination of changes in the Americans With Disabilities Act, communication on resources the center offers and the negative stigma associated with applying for accommodations.

“ADHD is a real disability,” he said. “I have students come in sometimes and say ‘Gosh, I just don’t think my condition is the same as a person who uses a wheelchair’ and I have to explain to them that it’s a burden to learning, one way or the other.”

Students with ADHD who register with ODA are offered two types of accommodations: self-accommodations and direct accommodations. Self-accommodations include study techniques, time management seminars and counseling if depression occurs. Direct accommodations can range from getting more time on tests to having advanced copies of notes.

Even though the stigma surrounding accommodations has been reduced, Venable said that the number of students registered with the ODA is not an accurate reflection of students on campus who have ADHD.

“Statistics say that about eight to 10 percent of the population will have some disability,” he said. “However, we see less than one percent of students with disabilities across the whole campus.”

Shannon Burkett is one of the many students who are not registered with the ODA.

“It’s just something I never did and at this point, I don’t think it would be beneficial,” she said.

Venable agrees that not all students need accommodations.

“Some don’t need accommodations because their treatments are working or they have good self-accommodations strategies,” he said. “If your meds are working, why come see us?”

Daily Drugs

Most people diagnosed with ADHD are prescribed psychostimulants, drugs that help with either mental or physical functions, medication to help with their symptoms. The study from the CDC found that there was a 27 percent increase in the number of children taking ADHD medications since 2007—meaning 3.5 million children are being medicated.

“The medication for ADHD is basically well-controlled speed,” Christen Clower said. “If ADHD is diagnosed wrong and someone is given medication for it, it can make them irritable, emotional or they won’t eat.”

Burkett takes 54 milligrams of Concerta every morning. The medication works throughout the day but wears off at night.

“I can get a lot of stuff done in the morning when my pill kicks in,” she said. “I also get horrible headaches and fatigue. You just have to take the good with the bad.”

The bad can also come in the form of prescription drug abuse. College campuses have become havens for the illegal sale of prescription drugs. ADHD medications like Adderall top the list.

The UNT police department investigates all narcotics activity, but has seen few cases on campus.

“Arrests can occur anywhere on campus,” community relations officer Corporal John DeLong said. “They could be concentrated around the dorms and Fry street but it can also be a result of a traffic stop.”

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than five percent of college students are taking psychostimulants illegally, a practice often referred to as “academic doping.”

“It is what it is,” Burkett said. “I get why people use it but I don’t think they’re taking into account the health side effects because you can become addicted. It makes it look like it’s no big deal to take this drug but it’s a very big deal to people like me.”

Looking to the Future

Even though the number of cases involving ADHD is rising, doctors still run various tests when diagnosing children.

“You really have to look at the whole picture when diagnosing,” Clower said. “Just because someone can’t pay attention doesn’t mean they have ADHD. That’s a symptom for nearly every type of psychological diagnosis.”

Burkett is no longer the hyper, blonde-haired girl struggling to make friends. She wants to go into corporate event planning after she graduates in May and won’t let her disorder get in the way.

“As you get older you can ‘grow out’ of ADHD but I’ll probably still take my pill,” she said.  “I’ve gotten a lot better over the past three years and it has to do with the experience I’ve gained in college.”

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