Kentucky leads nation in percentage of children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder

Kentucky leads the nation in the percentage of children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, according to the latest available data, which “showed that ADHD levels have risen steeply in the past decade across the nation,” Laura Ungar reports for The Courier-Journal.

Ungar writes that “19 percent of Kentucky children ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with
ADHD at some point, compared with 11 percent nationally and 16 percent
in Indiana.” Almost 15 percent of Kentucky children had the
diagnosis in 2011, based on polling by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re probably over-diagnosing it to a
certain extent,” Dr. Christopher Peters, a psychiatrist and
assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville, told Ungar. “But these numbers indicate a problem. There are many kids in need.”

The high numbers could “reflect the state’s rampant poverty, since ADHD is identified more
frequently in the poor,” Ungar writes. “Others say more children here may be genetically
prone to the disorder or face other risk factors. . . . Studies show that at least a third of parents who had ADHD as children have kids with the diagnosis.”

Any over-diagnosis may stem from “overworked primary care doctors who aren’t experts in
the disorder” and may be over-diagnosing — and possibly over-prescribing —
both locally and nationwide,” Ungar writes. “Roughly 8 percent of of school-aged boys
nationally and nearly 4 percent of girls took ADHD medications in 2012,
according to data from the pharmacy benefit management firm Express

There are “financial incentives” for an ADHD diagnosis, Ungar notes. “A diagnosis may translate into disability payments if a child has
measurable and serious problems, and students with ADHD can get extra
help in school. . . . Experts say the higher numbers may also indicate greater awareness of the disorder, meaning the truly needy are getting the medication, therapy and support they deserve.”

However, Dr. Carmel Wallace, pediatrics chairman at the University of Kentucky, “said parents rarely push for a diagnosis to get a
disability check,” Ungar reports. “And the threshold for disability is high.”

Still Kentucky has high rates of children and adults getting Social Security disability payments, and ranks high in some risk factors for ADHD.

“Scientists also have linked ADHD to alcohol and tobacco use during
pregnancy — although doctors said it’s unclear whether smoking is a
cause or simply occurs more often in families with afflicted children,” Ungar reports. “Kentuckians smoke at the nation’s highest rate and also have high rates
of substance abuse overall.”

Ungar’s example of an ADHD child was, in preschool, “a tiny tempest — at times defiant, other times bouncing distractedly
from toy to toy at daycare, while other children were absorbed in play,” but as a second-grader “is doing well . . . with a mild stimulant and counseling.” Here’s a C-J video of another ADHD child and her mother discussing how they deal with it:

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