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How to Know if Your Kid Was Overdiagnosed

How to Know if Your Kid Was Overdiagnosed



We’ve known that ADHD has a diagnosing problem for a long time now.  It’s just not clear what direction that diagnosing problem is going.  Is undiagnosing girls and different races more of a problem than than the overdiagnosing of younger children? Well, the research is definitely split on that one.  However, it can be easy to identify if your child or yourself have been underdiagnosed.  If you remain concerned, look through the symptoms and have yourself or your child evaluated professionally.

However, determining if your child has been overdiagnosed can be much more challenging.  Here’s some tips to help you decide if their condition ought to be reevaluated.  

Evaluate your child in a vacuum.

Take away any biases you might have, for or against ADHD.  Whether you have ADHD yourself or you disdain the disorder should not be relevant right now.  Try and think about your child and their symptoms independently before you move on to other steps.  This can be difficult to do, as it is becoming a contentious issue, but try to separate opinionated coverage on ADHD from what your child is experiencing.  

Consider when they were diagnosed.

One of the major problems when diagnosing ADHD is that some of the symptoms (hyperactivity, impulsivity, or difficulty concentrating) can also show up as kids transfer to a learning environment where they have to sit still for the first time.  We spend a lot of time emphasizing free play with children, but our school systems are designed with a “sit-down-shut-up” mentality.  If your kid is severely at odds with educational productivity, then maybe their diagnosis is warranted.  However, take a second and think: is this past the point of a typical child?  We are more likely to diagnose younger children than older ones in the same grade.  Could that couple extra months of maturity be the difference?

Additionally, some children may be acting out for reasons other than ADHD- they might dislike school, not understand the material, or be upset for a deeper reason.  Did these symptoms come on all at once?  Or have they been creeping beyond your notice for some time?  You don’t necessarily want to rush to judgement.

Consider how they were diagnosed.

Who initiated this diagnosis?  Was it a teacher or school administrator, who are incentivized to push for high-performing test scores?  How about a social worker, who was likely overworked? The system is strained, especially if you live in a rural area, where 80% of communities lack adequate access to a health professional.  Or was it you, who noticed a tornado of red pen corrections on all their homework?  Considering the source is important.  That’s not to say that schools, social workers, or parents never get it right- they often do.  But you should evaluate what lead you to push for a diagnosis.

Consider if it might be a misdiagnosis.

Is your child still experiencing issues?  It might not just be continuing ADHD.  Even medical professionals make mistakes and are prone to biases.  Symptoms of ADHD overlap with several other conditions, like autism, depression, or bipolar disorder.  You might be relieved to have an answer to your child’s problems, but the truth might be more complicated than that.  

If your child is still exhibiting symptoms, it might not because their meds need to be adjusted, but because they are suffering from a different condition entirely.  It’s important to identify their real problem, not only to better mitigate the symptoms, but because common ADHD drugs can have real risks.  If your child is actually autistic, depressed, or bipolar, then there’s no reason to risk those side effects.

None of this is meant to imply that ADHD is not real, or even that your child specifically doesn’t suffer from it.  We ought to support everyone in the ADHD community.  On the same token, it’s important to evaluate each kid based on their individual needs.  If your child does have ADHD, there’s plenty you can do to help them:  keep them on the right dose of their medication, rely on therapy like the French, encourage organization to reign in their focus, and, most importantly, make sure that they feel supported.   It’s a difficult path, but with the right diagnosis and your help, they’ll be just fine.

Dayton Uttinger's picture

Dayton socializes for a living and writes for fun, all while caring for her ten year old uncle. Her rarely relevant degree gives her experience in political science, writing, Spanish, rugby, theater, coding, and spreading herself too thin. She will forever be a prisoner of her family’s business, doomed to inherit responsibility despite frequent existential protests.