Does My Child Have ADHD? Consider a Different Diagnosis

Does my child have ADHD? Parents should consider a different diagnosis first

Have you asked yourself, “Does my child have ADHD?” You are not alone if you have a restless child that’s often fidgety and has a hard time paying attention in class. But does your child really have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or should you consider a different diagnosis? This is one of a series of articles about ADHD kids on Healthy Family. As a former special education teacher and a parent of a child who developed a tic disorder as a preschooler, I understand the concerns parents have about an ADHD diagnosis.

Does my Child have ADHD? But the Teacher Says Yes

Has your child’s teacher mentioned ADHD to you? Do you have a child that hates the thought of going back to school? Is your child easily distracted and often times unable to learn? Has the teacher repeatedly told you that your child is disruptive in class? Then you are probably one of those families being forced to consider labeling your child with ADHD and possibly prescribing him or her ADHD meds. But you may be jumping the gun. ADHD meds are over prescribed in this country and it is possible your child does not have ADHD and actually has another condition that mimics the symptoms of ADHD.

sxc.hu | author: Kay Pat
sxc.hu | author: Kay Pat

It is hard to watch a child suffer, and as a parent you may feel anxious and completely unprepared for the problems that you know are about to resurface all over again every school morning. Your child is fidgety, easily distracted, and highly forgetful. The teachers will remind you that your child does not complete his homework, is impulsive, and sometimes downright annoying toward others. The school may even have approached you about diagnostic testing and you’ve heard the term ADHD brought up by more than one professional. You are scared and confused, and you are searching for answers. What is going to happen if your child actually gets an ADHD diagnosis? Are you worried about the cost of an ADHD diagnosis and whether your insurance will cover ADHD?

What is ADHD? Does my Child have ADHD? And if so, what is the cure?

As I mentioned above, I am a former special educator. I have taught many children over the years who were diagnosed with this disorder, both medicated and not. I never understood how painful the diagnosis can be for parents, nor the pressure to begin the most acceptable method of treatment (Ritalin) , (Adderall) , (Strattera) , (Concerta) , until I became a parent years later.

I had filled out many questionnaires during my years of teaching, often inadvertently prescribing this medication to children based on my observations as a teacher. It was a very powerful role I played in the outcome of a child’s life, and looking back I now realize it was done with such a lack of overall knowledge about what could possibly be causing this “disease” of the mind.

Most disturbingly, I have witnessed many side effects suffered by several of the children I taught.

According to the CDC, the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis involves subjective observations of a particular child’s predispositions toward inattentiveness, hyperactivity, or impulsivity over a six-month period of time. The diagnostician is a medical professional who relies on the expertise of parents and teachers for their subjective judgments on the matter. He or she then prescribes medication based on the responses generated in the assigned questionnaire forms.

ADHD Diagnosis comes with a heavy price. According to a study released in the official journal of the Academy of Pediatrics in 2004,

“children with ADHD had more parent-reported problems in terms of emotional-behavioral role function, behavior, mental health, and self-esteem. In addition, the problems of children with ADHD had a significant impact on the parents’ emotional health and parents’ time to meet their own needs, and they interfered with family activities and family cohesion” [1].

Dr. Fred A. Baughman Jr., a neurologist for over 35 years and renowned spokesperson on the dangers and ill-effects of ADHD meds, addressed the Medical Board of California in 2001, arguing that:

“The lay-public does not fully understand that an objective, physical abnormality, equals pathology, equals disease. They can only trust, and believe what their physicians tell them. Violating that trust, cost-is-no-object, psychopharm propaganda, bombards them with images of ‘chemical imbalances’—psychiatry’s ‘diseases,’ and ‘chemical balancers’—pills, to treat them all. Patients and parents cannot bring themselves to imagine so total, and brazen a deception. Without the contrived illusion of a disease, there would be no six-million-case, ADHD ‘epidemic'”[3].

Dr. Baughman has written a book: The ADHD Fraud: How Psychiatry Makes “Patients” of Normal Children, in which he talks about the history of “hyperactivity disease” from the 1970s, when it was first brought to Congress, to today. In the space of nearly 40 years the incidence of children with it has risen from 150,000 to nearly six million. He believes that the pharmaceutical industry is to blame for a money making scheme to get rich off of unnecessary prescriptions. Perhaps he is right.

ADHD Chart
This map depicts the Percent of Youth 4-17 ever diagnosed and currently medicated for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: National Survey of Children’s Health, 2003.

Many families claim that these drugs have in fact helped their child, even if they did bring with them a series of unwanted side effects as well.

If ADHD is a Made-up Disease and there is no Reason for ADHD Meds then why do ADHD Meds Work for Some?

Many parents with children on ADHD medication still as themselves, does my child have ADHD? This is because it is a clinical diagnosis.

ADHD is a genetic condition, and I believe it is rare. If you try alternative methods and find that there is no other underlying condition, try the least evasive ADHD meds available. Weight the pros and cons and honestly see if there’s a difference in you or your child’s ability to concentrate. For some the medication is the answer. For many, it is a missed diagnosis.

There are many possible side effects from taking medication for ADHD, as you have probably already read. Ritalin can cause sudden death from heart failure, Strattera can cause suicidal tendancies, Tic disorders are a common side-effect of all common drugs prescribed and are irreversible even after meds are stopped. Now a new study has recently come out to add to the list of negatives: shortness. James Swanson, PhD, director of the Child Development Center at the University of California, Irvine has released the findings of his study

“Yes, there is a growth suppression effect with stimulant ADHD medications,” he tells WebMD. “It is going to occur at the age of treatment, and over three years it will accumulate.”

Swanson is still not sure if these kids will regain their height potential.

“The big question now is whether there is any effect on these kids’ ultimate height. We don’t know if by the time they are 18 they will regain the height.”

Kids entered this study in 1999 at ages 7 to 9, so it will be another two years before the results are in [2].

Between 1990 and 2000 there were 186 deaths from methylphenidate (Ritalin) reported to the FDA MedWatch program, a voluntary reporting scheme, the numbers of which represent no more than 10 to 20% of the actual incidence [3].

Known side-effects of drug therapy and increasing numbers of negative studies do nothing to help the struggling family cope with ADHD. You are probably wondering what you can do to help your child in lieu of giving them medication. You may want to consider other possibilities. Perhaps ADHD is a manifestation of symptoms that really describe a condition or multiple conditions that are truly clinically diagnosable. Take a look at some of the possible causes below and see if any of them may more aptly fit your child’s symptoms.

Does my Child have ADHD? Diagnosis References:

  1. Klassen, Ann F., Anton Miller, Stuart Fine. “Health-Related Quality of Life in Children and Adolescents Who Have a Diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Vol. 114 No. 5 November 2004, pp. e541-e547.
  2. Swanson, J.M. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, August 2007; vol 46: pp 1014-1026. WebMD Medical News: “Do ADHD Drugs Stunt Kids’ Growth?” May 1, 2006. James M. Swanson, PhD, professor of pediatrics and director, child development center, University of California, Irvine. Omar Khwaja, MD, PhD, attending physician in neurology, Children’s Hospital, Boston.
  3. Baughman, Fred A. Jr., MD “presentation/letter to the MBC of November 3, 2001” January 4, 2002.

If you enjoyed this resource, then check back with us regularly for more important topics regarding drug testing.

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7 Comments on Does My Child Have ADHD? Consider a Different Diagnosis

  1. We have been seeing several doctors to find the best way to help my 7 year old very active, extremely sensative and easily frustratable daughter. Today we were told to cut out dairy, corn, eggs, turkey and gluten. We also need to go high protein and low carb. I am floored, prevously we ate mostly organic and we do/did not eat red meat. My daughter took a turkey w/mayonaise sandwich to school for lunch everyday. I barely know where to begin with what to feed her. Fortunately I’ve found this website, thank you. Do you know of any support groups where people meet and share stories, experiences and receipes?

    • Hi Melanie,
      We have a forum board with our site where recipes are listed by allergen/avoidance and lots of getting started info is available too. Check it out. Are you using brain boosting supps like fish oil or B complex? This can also help with focus at school. If gluten is a problem it will take months for resolution. For us it was nine months. Milk and corn resolve faster. Corn was a big issue with us. We used to call our son ‘Tigger’ but after eliminating corn he bounced off the walls much less. Corn is hard to avoid and you have to be diligent. Is your child anemic or low in iron? Our son had low iron at dx. Red meat is a good source but supplements may also be necessary temporarily if blood tests reveal anemia as absorption is an issue with gluten intolerance/celiac. There are many alternative snacks, etc.. available but be careful with sugar content for a while as a safeguard. Gluten free sweets and snacks are devoid of nutrients even more than wheat. So we use them as occasional rewards and really fill up on fruits and veggies and meat.

  2. Linda,
    Have you read any of Dr. Doris Rapp’s books? This is a great starting point. She discusses at length cerebral allergies and known toxins that can affect the brains of susceptible kids. There is a lot of information about food allergies, but most mainstream sources talk about histamine reactions. Why were you told to cut out dairy, corn, eggs, turkey and gluten? Was this due to an IgG delayed intolerance test?
    Look at:
    http://healthy-family.org/forum/index.php/topic,22.0.html
    http://healthy-family.org/forum/index.php/topic,112.0.html
    For general information, visit:
    http://www.foodallergykitchen.com/pages/links.php
    They also have a very active forum (and I am a member there) at:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FOODALLERGYKITCHEN/
    Our forum offers recipes that are categorized according to allergens, so check it out for ideas.
    http://healthy-family.org/forum/
    Also, if you are looking for a physical support group you can look into POCHA or MOCHA (parents/mothers of children having allergies) Here is one link:
    http://www.mochallergies.org/
    This group has local monthly meetings in various places. There may be one near you. I joined one of these groups, although the nature of the allergy is much different than what we deal with. These kids have anaphylatic allergies and not cerebral, for the most part. Call your school principal or nurse and confide in them. Perhaps there is another family at your school going through the same thing.
    Support is key. I got most of mine from an unlikely source last year. My son’s preschool teacher last year is a Celiac.
    All the best.
    Caryn

  3. We have removed dairy from my son’s diet and have noticed a significat improvement. We are going to try removing all corn products this next week. i pray every night hoping to find out something for my son. He struggles in school, lack of attention, smart kid and shy with low self-esteem.

  4. I am aware of the fact that food has a great deal to do with mood, and allergies can also be a tremendous factor in the behavior an individual may exhibit. I am engaged in the exhaustive process of tracking moods in my children along with diet, exercise, medication, and behavior. They have had their blood tested for anemia, diabetes, lead, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid issues, hearing and speech, learning disabilities, etc. I feel like there is sooooo much work to do though and that I am never doing enough to help them. The fact that there is mental illness in the genetic line (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) tends to lead me to lean toward the side of early detection and early treatment.

  5. Thanks Melody,

    You are right, there are so many pieces to the puzzle. Worse yet, what works for one child may not work for the other, even in the same family. Just from what you mentioned, the testing, and the medical conditions in your family– I am curious if you looked into gluten intolerance or celiac, too? There was a study a few years back that showed 33% of diagnosed schizophrenics had undiagnosed celiac disease. That is MUCH larger than the general population (1%).
    Also, have you tried to reduce or limit artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives? That can also be helpful with treating ADHD symptoms naturally. You may see a difference in mood, especially. In our case corn allergies were a major trigger in our oldest son. I consider his condition “cerebral allergies”, although now that he is much older and on his special diet for over three years we don’t see those symptoms at all anymore.

  6. I wanted to add that one over looked differential diagnosis is sleep disorders…my son is scheduled for surgery and has been on a cap machine since being diagnosed with severe sleep apnea this summer…the symptoms that mimic adhd are completely gone now that his osa is under control!

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