Diagnoses of ADHD increasing in Oklahoma elementary school students

About one in 10 school-age children in Oklahoma — and the nation — has ADHD, according to figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's a condition that makes it hard to focus and pay attention and can make it difficult for a child to do well in school or behave at home.
by Tim Willert Modified: August 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: August 25, 2013

Wolraich, who specializes in pediatric development and behavioral medicine, chaired the committee that revised ADHD guidelines for the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011.

He recommends behavioral therapy for young children diagnosed with ADHD, and a combination of therapy and medication for children ages 6 to 11 and adolescents up to age 17.

“Clearly, ADHD continues in many of these individuals into adulthood,” he said. “Certainly there are adults who continue to have the condition and continue to benefit from treatment.”

Wolraich said most people diagnosed with ADHD have an additional condition such as a learning disability or anxiety disorder, and can be extremely defiant. While some are easily annoyed by their peers, others can become bullies and thieves and eventually stop following social norms.

“There are certainly a number of people who suggest that it is not a real condition and that is clearly not the case,” Wolraich said. “It's not a condition that is inconsequential. Those with ADHD have a much higher rate of dropping out of school and getting in trouble with the law.”

Jacobs, the Edmond psychologist, does not prescribe medication, although she said it can be very helpful when children face failing school or dropping out.

“I've had some young clients who were starting to think that they hated school or that they were just dumb,” she said. “Referring out for a medication in those cases gave the children the hope they needed while the families were putting behavioral techniques in place.”

About two thirds of those diagnosed receive prescriptions for stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, which can improve the lives of those with ADHD but can also lead to misuse and abuse, experts said.

“Some high school and college students will try to get a hold of the medication to stay up all night and study for exams,” Wolraich said.

Jacobs said she is meeting more and more teenage clients without ADHD who are taking a friend's medication to help them study.

“Sadly, in the past I have worked on cases where parents were selling their children's medications and everyone was wondering why the children were not doing better in school,” she said.

Jacobs works with prescribing physicians, sharing feedback about their clients' symptoms and side effects. She said whether children are treated with behavioral therapy or a combination of therapy and medication, it is important to note that children with ADHD cannot “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

“The playing field for children with ADHD is not level,” she said. “It takes much more than just a desire to pay attention or sit still.

“When I meet children with ADHD symptoms, they are trying the best they can to cope. It is not as though they are holding out their best efforts for later or are simply unmotivated.”

Over-diagnosed?

Besides being the most common neurobehavioral disorder among children, children with ADHD suffer more injuries than those without it, the CDC reported.

Between 2003 and 2007, the rate of parent-reported ADHD diagnoses among children 4 to 17 years of age increased from 7.8 percent to 9.5 percent, according to a CDC report. In four years, the number of children with ADHD had risen by 1 million to 4.1 million. Oklahoma was among the states with the most significant increases in ADHD prevalence, 35.8 percent.

A 2012 CDC-funded study of six school districts in two states, including Oklahoma, found an estimated 10.6 percent of children had enough symptoms to fit the ADHD diagnosis, and 7.4 percent were taking ADHD medication.

“I don't want to say it's being over-diagnosed,” Johnson said. “I think people are becoming more attentive to it.”

Teachers have become better at spotting ADHD in students and communicating their concerns to parents, she added.

“It doesn't take long to realize a kid's got a problem,” Johnson said. “There has to be good communication between the teacher and the parent.”

Johnson advises concerned parents to schedule a complete physical with their child's primary care physician.

Johnson oversees the district's 1,500 nurses, who are responsible for setting up and maintaining health care plans for children taking medication.

“You have to monitor the student's behavior because that's really the only way you know if you made the right choice,” she said. “Medically you want to monitor the child for any side effects, and you want to watch to see whether they're getting their assignments done.”

by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for FOXSports.com in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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You watch children struggle with not being able to get all of the successes that other kids get because they are always in trouble. They're the ones who can't sit in their chairs or get their homework done.”

Debbie Johnson,
Health services administrator for Oklahoma City Public Schools and mother of a son with ADHD

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