Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects at least 1 out of every 10 children in America. It’s vital to the well-being of our country’s children to spread awareness in hope of getting those who have it the help they need – many symptoms are written off as natural due to lack of understanding.
But even those who are accurately diagnosed are still at risk – the number of children being medicated for ADHD continues to rise, despite recent research indicating that other therapies should be the first option.
Hope So Bright Is bringing awareness to this issue for the good of everyone – ADHD doesn’t just affect those who suffer from it – classmates, parents and teachers all have to deal with the consequences of an ADHD case that has been undiagnosed or mismanaged.
One major problem with ADHD diagnosis is that its symptoms are all widely recognizable, and many people without the disorder have experienced them – inattention, poor listening skills, impulsive behavior, or difficulty sitting still. Among many other symptoms, those with ADHD are crippled by the constant presence of these issues.
But if a child is suffering from these symptoms, which also surface due to countless other disorders (depression, anxiety, Tourettes and other learning disabilities), how are we to determine ADHD is the cause? There are intensive behavioral tests that are designed to determine whether ADHD is the underlying cause of the patient’s problems. However, these tests require skilled analysis, and the most limiting factors of all — time and money.
All too often, doctors or psychiatrists perform a quick interview and reach for their prescription pad. This knee-jerk reaction to prescribe medication as the first step can be nearly as damaging as leaving the child undiagnosed.
The perils of a medication first approach
The stimulant Adderall is the go-to solution to ADHD these days. While this stimulant can work for people with Adderall, it shouldn’t be the first treatment. All too often, doctors will prescribe Adderall and “call it a day” without thoroughly assessing the effect it has on the child taking it.
This approach originates with an attitude that ADHD is a simple problem with a turnkey solution. You don’t need a degree in neuroscience to understand that the brain is a complex entity and it’s rare to find such a simple solution to its disorders.
Sandwiched between pharmaceutical companies that want to increase their profits, and patients who are seeking relief that they can feel instantly, it’s not surprising that doctors prescribe Adderall first, and only look to other treatments next (that is, if they have the time). ADHD symptoms are more prevalent in poor communities, which means that Medicaid is often paying the bill for diagnosis and treatment. The more time a treatment takes, the more money is costs – incentive to write a simple prescription is everywhere.
Alternative therapies that shouldn’t be labeled “alternative”
One of the main goals of our campaign at Hope So Bright is to remove the “alternative” label from many successful treatments for ADHD. Medication may be part of the answer, but it should be more of a last option than a first choice.
Since 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended behavioral therapy as a first-line treatment for pre-school aged children, yet half of diagnosed preschoolers were taking stimulants, and 1 in 4 were being treated with medicine only.
Behavioral methods, like applied behavioral analysis (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) use understanding of cognitive learning mechanisms and the psychology of motivation to teach children to effectively manage their ADHD, as opposed of simply giving them a pill to ingest that hides the symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches children systems to break down tasks they find complex into smaller pieces, allowing them sustained focus. Verbal practice helps the children communicate, and videos expose them to consistently represented displays of proper social behavior. This culminates in the child developing self-management skills that help she or he cope with the symptoms of ADHD.
This method of treating ADHD is highly personalized and requires a sustained effort from both the patient and doctor. Although it may be more expensive up front, the costs overall are dramatically lower – when you finish taking medicine, the effects wear off and soon you’re running to the pharmaceutical companies once again.
But with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other behavioral therapy, learning lifelong strategies to manage ADHD symptoms is actually less expensive in the long run, because patients don’t need a lifetime of medication. Although Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might not be right for everyone, doesn’t it make more sense to try this method first before reaching for the pill bottle?
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