Unfortunately, your child’s pediatrician might agree. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed the age at which children could be diagnosed with ADHD. Now children as young as 4 and as old as 18 can be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This diagnosis now also includes the old diagnosis of ADD, a term that is no longer used.
This change has led to fears that with more diagnoses there will be more drug therapies applied and perhaps some of these will be diagnosed incorrectly. To me, these sound like legitimate fears.
The first problem I have is that the drugs approved for treating ADHD are dangerous and pose serious risks. On top of that, they have only been approved to be used in children 6 and over. No one has studied these medications on children younger. This is a major problem. We cannot possibly know what these powerful stimulants can do to a developing brain. These stimulants are, after all, a derivative of methamphetamine (basically speed!).
The guidelines are quick to point out that while Ritalin is an effective option, it should only be used once behavior modification has been tried unsuccessfully. The problem with that is I find many pediatricians are already too quick to write a prescription and move on to the next patient. In a health care environment where most physicians are strapped for time as it is, they are unlikely to take the time to describe how to implement a program of behavioral modification and are much more likely to recommend something quick and easy like Ritalin.
A child that is just 4 years old is still developing. Their brain is malleable and easily changed. On one hand this is a good thing. It means changes in their home life, behavioral modifications and therapeutic exercises have a great chance of working. On the other hand it means the potential for negative change associated with medications is greater as well.
I see many children in my office for neurobehavioral disorders like ADHD. I find I can recognize the hard signs in a 4 year of ADHD like breakdown in gait patterns, breakdown in eye movements or the persistence of primitive reflexes. These are easily corrected with a program of brain rehabilitation and does not require dangerous stimulants.
These guidelines seem to be a way to open a new market for pharmaceutical sales. As a matter of fact, the chairman of the committee who recommended the new guidelines, physician Mark Wolraich, is a periodic consultant to Eli Lilly, Shire Plc, and other pharmaceutical companies. Eli Lilly and Shire hold exclusive U.S. patents for atomoxetine (brand name Strattera) and guanfacine (brand name INTUNIV), respectively, both of which the report recommends for treating ADHD in adolescents.
Parents should not be fooled by these recent recommendations. Parents should seek drug-free alternatives for their children if they believe that they have ADHD. We just don’t know what these medications can do to a young brain.