According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.4 million children, or 11 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 17, have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
John Antal, director of Clinical Services at Robert C. Byrd Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Center, believes community education on many different societal issues is a must.
"There's more acceptance today than what there had been previously," Antal said of mental illness disorders.
Photo by Rebecca Olsavsky
John Antal, director of Clinical Services at Robert C. Byrd Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Center, stands in front of a mural in the center’s child unit.
However, he said there are still guardians who choose to ignore signs of the disorder because they believe "it's almost taboo" to have their child diagnosed with mental illness.
Futher, it is difficult to diagnose before the age of 4 because a child is usually full of energy anyway. The average age of ADHD diagnosis is seven.
Three key ADHD symptoms are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Antal said the more people interviewed who are involved in a child's life, the more accurate a diagnosis will be as psychiatrists look for common behavioral patterns at home, school and other places.
Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin and Adderall are popular stimulants for treatment. Antal said other medications may be needed to treat other disorders, such as bipolar, anxiety or depressive disorders, co-occuring with ADHD. According to Antal, it is common for those with ADHD to have other disorders.
Antal added both medication and therapy together are necessary to enhance the other's benefits. At the Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health Center, patients participate in group therapy. Therapy forms include art, music, recreation and sports.
"In society, people think 'take a pill, you'll feel better,'" Antal said. "Medication can only do so much, and therapy can only do so much."
Considering the CDC's study, Antal said there are various possible reasons for the increase in diagnoses. Among them, home environment could be a contributing factor. Although not presenting it as a direct cause of ADHD, Antal said behaviors associated with using modern technology can contribute to factors that lead to the disorder.
"Whether using cell phones or iPads or computers late at night, you supress levels of melatonin which help give you a good night's sleep," Antal said.
Glaring light may lead to a difficult time relaxing, which may make children more irritable the following day, Antal said. Plus, as so many kids stay in the house today, too much indoor living is another modern behavior that could contribute to cases of the disorder.
During treatment, it is important for those with ADHD to have reward-based programs and to learn how to deal with the consequences of their behavior.
"These things are happening to this person," Antal said. "They are not this person."