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One Diagnosis or Many?

The epidemic proportions of the ADD diagnosis are gaining widespread attention from parents, educators, physicians, and other healthcare providers. Many people are seriously questioning the possibility of overdiagnosis. This issue was raised in an informative cover article in Newsweek magazine. "ADHD has become America's No. l childhood psychiatric disorder.... Since 1990, Dr. Daniel Safer of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine calculates, the number of kids taking Ritalin has grown two and a half times. Among today's 38 million children at the ages of five to fourteen, he reports, 1.3 million take it regularly. Sales of the drug last year alone topped $350 million. This is, beyond question, an American phenomenon. The rate of Ritalin use in the United States is at least five times higher than in the rest of the world, according to federal studies."

The article continues, "For all the success they've had in treating ADHD, many doctors are convinced that Ritalin is overprescribed." Dr. Peter S. Jensen, chief of the Child and Adolescent Disorders Research Branch of the National Institutes of Mental Health is quoted: "I fear that ADHD is suffering from the 'disease of the month' syndrome." Dr. Bruce Epstein, a St. Petersburg, Florida, pediatrician, reports that parents of normal children have asked him to prescribe Ritalin just to improve their children's grades. "When I won't give it to them, they switch doctors."

We applaud Dr. Thomas Armstrong's warning about the current overdiagnosis of ADD in his book The Myth of the ADD Child. We have seen a number of children who were high-spirited, extremely imaginative, and so precocious that their parents were unable to keep up with their ceaseless questions and insatiable intellectual appetites. We have also met children who were overamped, but performed just fine in school. Many of these children have been diagnosed with ADD, even though we feel they fall more into the category of unusual, remarkable, or gifted children. Some youngsters are the victims of rigid, overly strict teachers whose highly structured classroom environments simply do not pace their temperaments and learning styles. Or they have excessively rule-bound parents who do not extend to their children the freedom that they need to thrive and expand their creative talents.

We have also seen a large number of children whose behaviors are very disruptive and disturbing through no fault of teachers. No one can expect a teacher in a classroom of forty active children to cope happily with the statistical average of 10 percent (four children) in her class with ADD. The amount of extra attention, discipline, and time just trying to keep these children and those around them safe is more than many teachers can handle.

Can we, however, lump all of these children together under one diagnostic category? Can a child who lashes out at his family, peers, and teachers in a violent, destructive manner and has no interest in his schoolwork fit into the same diagnostic group as a sweet, gregarious child who simply cannot pay attention in class? Conventional medicine would say that, based on their scores on standardized ADD tests, both children could indeed have ADD. Homeopathy would say that these are two distinct children whose problems and temperaments are as different as night and day. A homeopath would prescribe very different medicines for the two children, rather than giving them both stimulants.

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About The Author
Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, ND, DHANP, MSW is a licensed naturopathic physician board certified in homeopathic medicine. She graduated with a degree in ...more
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