ADHD: Current Research
Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, may act without thinking about what the result will be, or be overly active. Although there isn’t any known cure for ADHD, it can be successfully managed and some symptoms may improve as the child ages.
Project to Learn About ADHD in Youth (PLAY)
Due to increasing concern about ADHD by the public and by public health professionals, CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) funded a collaborative research project with the University of South Carolina and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, called Project to Learn about ADHD in Youth (PLAY). PLAY is one of the largest studies of ADHD in the United States.
The study population includes six school districts in two states with diverse populations. Recently, data have been published from the baseline assessment, using information collected from parents and teachers when the children were in elementary school.
- At the baseline assessment, the percent of children who had enough parent- and teacher-reported symptoms to fit the ADHD diagnosis was 8.7% in South Carolina and 10.6% in Oklahoma.
- The percent of parents who reported that their children were taking ADHD medication was 10.1% in South Carolina and 7.4% in Oklahoma.
- Of children taking ADHD medication, only 39.5% (in SC) and 28.3% (in OK) had enough parent- and teacher-reported symptoms to fit the ADHD diagnosis. These children had more ADHD symptoms, on average, than the other comparison children.
These findings show that ADHD prevalence estimates in this sample were at the upper end of the range found in previous studies.
There is a large portion of children taking ADHD medication who did not have enough symptoms at the time of the assessment to fit the ADHD diagnosis, based on parent and teacher reports. This suggests that: 1) many of these children may have been appropriately treated for ADHD, resulting in a decrease in symptoms so that their symptoms or level of impairment no longer were enough to fit the diagnosis, and 2) some children may not have had enough symptoms or impairment to fit the diagnosis and may not have needed the medications.
Further, many children had enough parent- and teacher-reported symptoms to fit the ADHD diagnosis, but they had not been previously identified and were not receiving medication treatment, suggesting that the condition remains underdiagnosed.
This is the personal story of April and her child Sara. From age 9 until age 15, Sara participated with her mother in the ADHD Play and follow-up studies.
“The PLAY interview process was an affirming experience for both me and my daughter. I realized that ADHD encompasses so much more of a child's life than his or her behavior. It impacts relationships, family dynamics, school performance, parental practices, and most of all, a child's concept of self-worth. I think the biggest struggle for children with ADHD is trying to conform to traditional school settings, where sitting still, long-term focus, organizational skills, etc. are rewarded behaviors.
“For each annual interview my daughter and I would always compare notes before and after the interview. She was curious to see what I said about her in the pre-interview paperwork, and I was curious to hear about her answers in the face-to-face interview. It was always a great opportunity for us to talk about things we didn't usually discuss on a regular basis, such as her self-confidence, her growing independence, her school performance, her behavior, and her relationships at home and school.
“Over time, I was able to trace her own self-confidence and sense of security back to the structure of our home life, her physical fitness activities, her love for the arts, her relationship with her parents (especially her dad), and the loving adults who surrounded her. I think we affirmed that having a well-rounded set of activities, a loving family unit, good routines and limits, and healthy relationships at school are habits to keep for a lifetime. The researchers’ ability to trace data trends on all aspects of a child's life in such a comprehensive way will hopefully help those affected by ADHD in the future.”
CDC would like to thank April for sharing her personal story.
Mark L. Wolraich, Robert E. McKeown, Susanna N. Visser, David Bard, Steven Cuffe, Barbara Neas, Lorie L. Geryk, Melissa Doffing, Matteo Bottai, Ann J. Abramowitz, Laoma Beck, Joseph R. Holbrook, and Melissa Danielson (2012). The prevalence of ADHD: Its diagnosis and treatment in four school districts across two states. Journal of Attention Disorders, published online September 5, 2012.
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