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March 20, 2014 - Image 23

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2014-03-20

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family focus


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he scenario is all too com-
mon. A child is struggling at
school with behavior prob-
lems: fidgeting, not paying attention
in class, not completing assignments
or losing them before they can be
turned in. The teachers become con-
cerned and reach out to the parents,
but the parents don't know
what to do.
In many cases, the child
is labeled as having "atten-
tion problems" and taken to
see a family physician who
asks a few questions before
writing a prescription for
medication. But what hap-
pens when this doesn't solve
the problem?
It's been widely
reported that the diag-
nosis of Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder
(ADHD) is on the rise. A study pub-
lished in the Journal of the American

Academy of Child and Adolescent
Psychiatry last November looked at
trends in the diagnoses of ADHD
as reported by parents from 2003
to 2011. The study showed that the
percentage of children in the U.S.
between ages 4-17 who were diag-
nosed with ADHD by a health care
provider increased dramatically dur-
ing the study period.
In 2011, 11 percent of U.S. school-
aged children had been diagnosed
with ADHD by a health care provid-
er, compared to just 7.8 percent in
2003. From 2007 and 2011, the rate
at which those children were taking
medication for ADHD — prescribed
by their doctors — rose by 28 per-
cent, the report found.
These findings raise a challeng-
ing question: Are more and more
children suffering from ADHD, or
are we missing something? A grow-
ing number of mental health prac-
titioners believe we are absolutely
missing something. All too often, the
processes used by health care pro-
viders to diagnose ADHD and other
cognitive and developmental issues
in children are insufficient or inac-
In some cases, proper diagnosis
by a mental health professional can
be achieved with a simple meeting,
answers to a few questions, and a
period of observation and interac-
tion with a child. In more compli-
cated cases, mental health providers
can conduct comprehensive psycho-
logical testing to reach a diagnosis
with far greater accuracy than a fam-

ily doctor. These tests can evaluate
for ADHD using cognitive, achieve-
ment and social-emotional mea-
sures, while laying the groundwork
for a unique, multifaceted treatment
plan for each child.
Cognitive testing provides an
indication of a child's ability to learn
and use new informa-
tion. For example, results
will show if a child has a
deficit or strength in using
nonverbal or verbal infor-
mation, or if she takes in
new information faster or
slower than others.
Combined with achieve-
ment testing, which shows
what a child has learned
in school, cognitive test-
ing tells a psychologist if
a child is learning as well
as she should. If there is a
discrepancy between the two tests,
examination of the results tells the
psychologist how to help.
Meanwhile, social-emotional test-
ing provides a clearer picture of
how a child experiences emotions.
Answers to questionnaires given
to the child, parents and teachers,
coupled with tests administered in
person, help a psychologist evaluate
how the child functions emotionally.
Combined with a comprehensive
history and observations of the
child, a psychologist can use aggre-
gate results from all of these tests to
make a diagnosis, if appropriate, and
give recommendations for treatment,
if required.
It's possible that the prevalence
of ADHD and other cognitive and
developmental conditions is on the
rise among children. In many cases,
health care providers likely do pro-
vide a careful and accurate diagno-
sis. But diagnosing and medicating
a child for ADHD is a process that
deserves a thoughtful and informed
approach. For many parents, reach-
ing out to a mental health profes-
sional is the first step toward getting
the answers they need.
For more information, including
potential costs and how to know if
your insurance covers testing, see
the resources on our webpage at
jfsdetroit.org/psych_testing .

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March 20 • 2014


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