The number of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder diagnoses has increased by nearly 42 percent in the past eight years, according to Psychiatry Today. And yet, there is no apparent environmental or physical explanation for this spike.
In high school, I assumed that having ADHD was as common as wearing braces. Since leaving my suburban bubble, however, I realize that not everybody reaches for Ritalin before going to class or cramming for an exam.
It’s certainly possible that students are beginning to recognize a problem that already existed, but didn’t have a name. Technology could also be amplifying the issue. But in my experience, ADHD diagnoses are often the result of overzealous parents seeking to give their child a leg up on the rest of their peers.
American Sociological Review reported that “students are 30 percent more likely to have a prescription filled for stimulant medication during the school year than they are during the summer.” But ADHD is a year-round disorder, so the number of prescriptions filled should be static. This suggests an alternative motive: Parents are seeking academic advantages for their children — and alleviating themselves of the burden of working with children on homework and test preparations.
Moreover, the number of ADHD cases are not consistent across social classes. Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, said students from higher-income areas experience a different kind of academic pressure.
“Affluent kids and their families are worried about the SAT — they’re worried about getting into elite colleges,” Petrilli told USA Today.
If children are performing poorly in school, it’s not uncommon for parents to seek out a medical justification. Grades are a reflection of hard work and and, sometimes, genetic intelligence. This is a hard pill for some parents to swallow, especially if a child’s grades are dropping.
Students, under extreme pressure from their parents, might prefer to buy into this narrative as well. They’d rather claim they suffer from ADHD than take personal responsibility.
But parents aren’t the only ones to blame. The rapid growth of ADHD prescriptions has spread as students notice that their friends on medications have an easier time studying and concentrating. I noticed this in my high school: Even those who didn’t struggle with classes felt disadvantaged.
This widespread use of medication creates an imbalanced playing field. Students who truly suffer from ADHD need additional time to take standardized tests, modified classroom settings, and specific medication just to get them near the same level of learning as other students. When these other students reap the same rewards, ADHD students wind up in the same place they began.
Before jumping to a clinical diagnosis, parents and students alike should look elsewhere to improve scholarship. Why not start with improving study habits, note-taking, and time management? Oftentimes, small life changes can do more good than medical prescriptions.
Allison Schuster is a sophomore studying politics.