adhd brainIs it just me, or does it seem like every other kid these days is diagnosed with ADHD? I’ll admit it … I used to be one of those people that thought it was a made-up “disorder” for bratty kids. Then I married someone with ADHD -- and believe me -- ADHD is real. But how real is it?

In the United States, nearly one in every five high school boys is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Over 10 percent of school-aged children overall have it. ADHD is up 16 percent over the past five years and 41 percent over the past decade.

What gives? Some doctors believe it’s being over diagnosed. One of them is Dr. William Graf, who is a pediatric neurologist and professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” he said. “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.”

More from The Stir: Latest Info on ADHD Could Disappoint a Lot of Moms

Enhancement of children? Yikes. What is this, Gattica?

Anyway. I think it’s simpler than that. Perhaps there’s an explosion of ADHD diagnoses these days because kids are more inactive than ever. Around 75 percent of kids don’t get enough physical activity. Basically, more kids have diagnosed ADHD because they aren’t unofficially treating it with exercise.

Exercise is a behavioral therapy for people with ADHD -- for some it may even be used as a replacement for stimulants. Physical activity releases endorphins and ups the dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels in the brain.  These help regulate focus and attention and, as one can imagine, are in short supply in an ADHD brain. When the chemicals are present, it increases alertness and reduces the desire for new stimuli.

Kids, and boys especially, used to get a lot more physical activity than they do now. They did more chores, they played outside more, and they worked more physical jobs during off-school hours. Maybe there were a number of them that were managing their undiagnosed ADHD without even knowing it!

ADHD is real, and I think it’s also really over-diagnosed. Medication can be a huge benefit in managing severe ADHD symptoms, but it can also “vastly improve focus and drive among those with perhaps only traces of the disorder.” Some experts worry that an ADHD diagnosis and stimulant prescriptions have become shortcuts to better grades.

Sure. Some people need medication, and there shouldn’t be a stigma for that. But I’m sure a number of kids currently taking meds could’ve managed their symptoms just fine with a few laps around the track.

Do you think ADHD is being over diagnosed?


Image via Life Mental Health/Flickr