Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder which is typically treated with stimulants. Most common of such stimulants is Adderall. It is very difficult to diagnose a child with ADHD, or any learning disability or behavioral disorder according to Brooke Schmidt of the Tiger Counseling Center.
I asked her about misdiagnosis with or without ADHD, specifically in girls.
“ADHD statistically is more prevalent in boys and usually will go unnoticed in any child without significant delay in academic or social functioning: lack of turning in assignments on time, or severe hyperactive/impulsive behaviors (think those super disruptive kids in class that usually had to be moved next to a teacher or outside the classroom). With girls, hyperactivity can appear as “chatty or bossy” like behaviors which can typically be brushed off as “common” behavior for little girls or deemed “active imagination.” We’ve certainly come a long way in the Psychological field to provide support for all young individuals, however, there is still a stigma associated with any mental disorder that no parent wants to label their child with. Do I think it goes misdiagnosed, even under diagnosed? Certainly. Could this be aided through more training, better funding for educational aids in the classroom, and lessening the stigma for mental health? Absolutely,” Schmidt said.
What does this say about our mental health and the health care system? To me, it says that we need to learn more about ADHD and mental health in general. We also need to work on fighting the stigma against mental health and its care. When seeing the statistics from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, it is clear that ADHD is potentially under-diagnosed, for only 8.1% of adults in the United States having been diagnosed with ADHD. With both this percentage and the professional opinion of Schmidt, it is clear that more needs to be done in the way of diagnosing individuals with ADHD.
The reason that it is so important to diagnose individuals with ADHD is that if they have it, is so that these people can receive the correct care needed, whether that is through therapy or with medication. I asked Schmidt about her opinion on whether ADHD can be treated without medication.
“This is a tough answer because everyone is different. Everyone responds to therapy differently and everyone responds to medication differently. Research shows that a combination of medication and therapy provide the best outcome for an individual. I have seen clients who thrive from medication alone, and the same for therapy and academic support. It really just depends on the severity of symptoms and individual needs,” Schmidt said.
It is important to understand that ADHD is most often diagnosed in childhood, but if that diagnosis does not happen, it can make life more difficult for the affected individual. A statistic from the CDC says that almost 10% of children between the ages of two and 17 are diagnosed with ADHD. This statistic brings a small sliver of hope that children are properly diagnosed, however there is still the fact that girls are not as commonly diagnosed with ADHD which can cause problems for them in the long run.
As a young adult recently diagnosed with ADHD, I asked Schmidt how often she sees young women being diagnosed with ADHD if they were not diagnosed as children.
“Right now, we are seeing a higher self-report of ADHD in young women, when in reality it could be a form of anxiety or mild depression. Ultimately, adult-onset ADHD is not as common as one might think, not from what I have seen. The issues with attention, focus or motivation could signify that classroom settings need altered, or that the individual could benefit from better study skills. Additionally, sometimes the issue is the individual is not interested in the subject matter presented to them or is distracted from outside situations,” Schmidt said.
This idea makes it harder for young women to be diagnosed later in life with ADHD, which can make treatment difficult for them.
For example, if someone is being treated for anxiety when they have ADHD and do not need anxiety treatment, it can make the problem worse or even bring about anxiety. What I mean by that is that if someone is not responding to treatment, they may become anxious about their condition and the fact that they are not responding correctly. In my own experience, I have seen women I know receive a diagnosis of ADHD while in high school or college, even into their mid-20’s. This leads me to believe that girls are not diagnosed with ADHD when they should be, leading to them being diagnosed later in life.
All in all, ADHD is a complex diagnosis and disorder. Luckily, Wittenberg has accommodations for individuals with all learning disabilities. If you are struggling with class work due to one or more learning disabilities, go to Wittenberg’s website and find Student Success to set up an appointment with Gwen Owen.