Watch the TV segment at the link above, or read the transcript below for helpful information on diagnosing ADHD in Children .
WCAX: Kids across our region are getting diagnosed with ADHD, but the disorder can stir debate. Psychiatrist Dr. David Rettew, you know him well. He’s a regular on the show. He’s here to answer some of our questions. Thanks for being here.
Dr. Rettew: Good to be back, Happy New Year.
WCAX: Happy New Year to you as well. And let’s get right to it. I mean, I’ve heard the debate. I’ve heard it talked about on TV. I’ve heard it talked about in social circles. Where is this stemming from?
Dr. Rettew: Well, I think it comes from three different reasons. One, ADHD is not a disorder you either have or you don’t. It’s more of a dimension, kind of like, sometimes I tell my patients that diagnosing ADHD is a bit like diagnosing somebody as being tall. And that subjectivity, I think, you know, breeds some kind of uncertainty. The second reason, I think, is that a doctor can’t just point to something on a brain scan and say, “there’s ADHD.” Certainly there are tons of studies that show that there is a genetic component to ADHD, that there’s a lot of brain science behind it. But because you can’t point to something, I think that also raises some uncertainty. But that’s the same thing for things like intelligence, which also is a very uncontroversial subject. People don’t write books about how there’s no such thing as intelligence, but you can’t point to a scan on that either. And probably the third reason is that it’s because medications are often a treatment for ADHD and people are understandably a bit leery when it comes to medication as we talked about last month.
WCAX: So if I take a giant step back, perhaps my second question should have been my first. What is it? I mean we know the buzz letters, we’ve heard it before, but what is it?
Dr. Rettew: Well it’s a term to describe children and adults who struggle with significant problems with attention, focus, organization, following directions, and/or significant problems with excessive activity or impulsivity.
WCAX: And you say, just to be clear, that it exists.
Dr. Rettew: Absolutely, and I think if you talk to many, many parents, they will say ADHD is about as real as it gets.
WCAX: Talk to me about the concern over labeling children. If you’re a parent out there and your kid has ADHD, it’s letters that may follow that child around, you know, through elementary school, middle school, and high school. How do we get around that? How much of a problem is that?
Dr. Rettew: Sure, well ADHD is a diagnosis, and psychiatric diagnoses, in particular, can have stigma associated with them. We have to be aware of that; however, the stigma is a creation of our society, and I think we can also do things to change that stigma. And secondly, I think what I would say is, yes ADHD is a label but if you don’t apply that label, people will use other terms and I’m not sure whether terms like, “stupid” or “lazy,” which are often used to describe people who struggle with ADHD is really any better of a label than ADHD is.
WCAX: So talk to me about what people do. You’re a mom or dad at home. You have a kid, you have concerns, a teacher maybe has called home or written an email home saying, “have this checked out.” What is your advice to parents out there?
Dr. Rettew: Probably a great place to start is just with your primary care doctor, your family physician or your pediatrician. Don’t expect that this is something like an ear infection that can be summed up and diagnosed and treated in a single visit. I think it often takes a careful evaluation and that’s talking to lots of people and getting information, and you know, you want somebody who’s gonna do a thorough evaluation and make a careful diagnosis.
WCAX: Doctor, is the conversation different when we’re talking about adults? I mean for generations, I fear maybe this has gone undiagnosed in some people. Now, what’s the conversation adults need to be having if they’re worried about themselves or another grown person they know?
Dr. Rettew: Well, a conventional wisdom was that people – everyone – outgrew ADHD and I think what we’re finding out is that more and more people don’t. Some do, but right now the data suggest that maybe about half of people who are diagnosed with ADHD as kids continue to struggle as adults.
WCAX: And just quickly, there’s help out there, you say.
Dr. Rettew: There’s lots of help out there, yes.
WCAX: Alright, we appreciate it. We’ll get this segment up online. People can share it with their friends and family. As always, appreciate your being here.