Is ADHD Actually Overdiagnosed?

There are a lot of news articles about ADHD. It’s great that we are learning more about the condition, but these articles can also lead to a lot of misinformation. For example, we frequently hear that the number of kids diagnosed with ADHD has increased significantly. A few years ago,a study at Harvard Medical School showed that kids who start school earlier are more likely to  be diagnosed with ADHD than those whose parents hold them back a year or whose districts have a later cut off birthdate for enrollment.

At first glance, it could seem as if ADHD is over-diagnosed or maybe inattention and hyperactivity are just due to immaturity. The danger of jumping to this conclusion is that some might ignore ADHD symptoms where they really exist, resulting in failure to evaluate and treat kids who are genuinely suffering.

Part of the issue is how ADHD is diagnosed. Oftentimes, a pediatrician gives parents and perhaps teachers a questionnaire to complete about a child’s behavior. While this is well-meaning, symptoms such as failure to listen, inattention to details, not wanting to do difficult tasks, or fidgeting can be due to things other than ADHD. Or the reverse can be true, as kids who overcompensate for their symptoms will slide under their teachers’ radar and then they are not diagnosed at all. This can result in bigger problems down the line as school assignments become more complex and demanding.

True ADHD is a disorder of executive function. Children with ADHD have real impairment with problem solving, cognitive flexibility, mental organization, and/or working memory as well as sustained attention, task initiation and task completion. Children with ADHD have difficulty breaking big assignments into smaller tasks and they can feel overwhelmed by schoolwork that contains many steps or advanced planning. Their hyperactivity isn’t just excess energy that they need to burn off; it’s the brain’s way of driving energy up to the frontal lobes so that their executive functions can be strengthened.

A full assessment that includes IQ, academic achievement, and executive function evaluation is the only way to know for sure if a child or adult does or does not have ADHD. And remember, just because some people may receive an ADHD diagnosis when they don’t have it, this doesn’t mean that ADHD isn’t underdiagnosed or missed in others.


If you are seeking an ADHD assessment or help managing yours or a loved ones ADHD diagnosis, reach out to Elements Psychological Services today to schedule an initial evaluation.