Are too many toddlers being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? New research suggests yes. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed ADHD diagnoses in children under the age of 4. The researchers found that roughly 10,000 American toddlers have been diagnosed with and are receiving medication for the mental disorder. The number is especially alarming, as the American Academy of Pediatrics' ADHD guidelines do not address children under the age of 3 because hyperactivity is normal behavior for children of that age.
"People prescribing to 2-year-olds are just winging it," Dr. Lawrence H. Diller, a behavioral pediatrician, tells the New York Times. "It is outside the standard of care, and they should be subject to malpractice if something goes wrong with a kid."
Doctors are especially concerned that drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are being prescribed to young children, as their effectiveness has yet to be tested for that age group. In the older age groups where the drugs have been tested, however, doctors have found that children run the risk of developing insomnia and hallucinations, as well as having their growth stunted. Instead of writing a prescription, Dr. Susanna N. Visser, the study's lead researcher, believes doctors need to offer non-pharmacological treatments, such as creating a more structured environment or therapy.
"Families of toddlers with behavioral problems are coming to the doctor's office for help, and the help they're getting too often is a prescription for a Class II controlled substance, which has not been established as safe for that young of a child," Visser tells the New York Times. "It puts these children and their developing minds at risk, and their health is at risk."