ADHD diagnoses for preschoolers? New guidlines spark controversy

istockphoto
istockphoto

(CBS) Listen up, parents, teachers and pediatricians: New guidelines for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) lower the age at which the neurobehavioral disorder should be diagnosed and treated - but not everyone thinks earlier diagnosis makes sense.

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The revised guidelines - issued on Sunday by the American Academy of Pediatrics - say ADHD can be diagnosed and treated in children as young as four years of age and as old as 18 years.

Previous guidelines put the span at ages six to 12.

"Treating children at a young age is important, because when we can identify them earlier and provide appropriate treatment, we can increase their chances of succeeding in school," Dr. Mark Wolraich, lead author of the report incorporating the guidelines, said in a written statement. "Because of greater awareness about ADHD and better ways of diagnosing and treating this disorder, more children are being helped."

The guidelines say the drug methylphenidate (Ritalin) should be considered for preschool kids with moderate to severe symptoms when they aren't helped by behavior therapy.

Can ADHD really be diagnosed in four-year-olds? And should preschoolers really be put on Ritalin? Some experts are dubious.

"Certainly children with problems of self-regulation are struggling, and they absolutely should receive treatment," pediatrician Dr. Claudia M. Gold, author of "Keeping Your Child in Mind," wrote on her blog."But receiving a diagnosis of ADHD should not be the only rout to receiving treatment."

She said troubled kids often benefit from psychotherapy as well as "parent training," in which parents learn skills for helping children with ADHD-like behaviors.

The academy says about 8 percent of children and youth have ADHD, making it the most common neurobehavioral disorder in children. ADHD is marked by inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.

The CDC has more on ADHD.

What do you think? Will new guidelines help troubled kids - or lead to overdiagnosis of ADHD?