Study Finds Large Number Of Children With ADHD Aren't Getting Treatment

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) occurs in about 7% of children under 18 worldwide, according to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). In the United States, it affects about 10% of children, and it's been increasing for the past 20 years. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls.

These statistics about ADHD are important to consider in light of a recent study in JAMA Network Open which found that only around 13% of children diagnosed with ADHD take medication, and just a little more than one-fourth of these children receive mental health treatment to manage their condition. The study looked at data from almost 12,000 children aged 9 to 10 and found that 1,206 children — about 10% — had been diagnosed with ADHD. Of these children with ADHD, just 15% of boys and 7% of girls took either stimulant or non-stimulant medication for their condition. More white children than Black children took ADHD medication.

Other results surprised the researchers. Parents who hadn't completed high school were three times more likely to treat their children with ADHD medication than parents with a college degree. Parents with a high school diploma or some college were also more likely to use mental health services for their child's ADHD than parents with a college degree. Parents with a lower income were also more likely to access mental health services for their children.

The ADHD treatment discrepancy among parents

The researchers were concerned by the differences between boys and girls getting ADHD treatment. Although more boys overall in the study had been diagnosed with ADHD, they were twice as likely to be treated. The study said that boys tend to have more disruptive displays of ADHD, which can flag the need for treatment.

The study's findings contradicted the researcher's assumptions that parents with more education and income would be more likely to treat their children's ADHD with medication. The researchers pointed out that parents with less education or income might be most concerned with their child's functioning, whereas parents with more education or income could be more skeptical about the risks of ADHD medication. In other words, a parent's decision to seek medication for a child with ADHD may not be undergirded by socioeconomic factors, but rather by attitudes toward ADHD treatment.

The study also suggested that parents with higher income might try non-medical strategies to treat their children such as tutoring, exercise and sports involvement, or a healthy diet. They also might be less likely to treat their child's ADHD with medication or outpatient mental health care for fear of the stigma attached to these treatments.