Study Shows Increase in Childhood ADHD Diagnosis Numbers

In an average public-school classroom of 23 students, new research indicates at least two or three of those students will have ADHD.

Researchers with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a study based on 45,483 completed interviews with parents as part of the 2022 National Survey of Children’s Health. The results show that one out of nine children in the United States have ever had an ADHD diagnosis. It adds that 6.5 million children and teens have a current diagnosis of ADHD.

These numbers represent an increase from a similar study in 2016, but not so steep an increase as to prompt a concern about the increase in prevalence (statistical probability within a defined group). The researchers point to two cultural changes that may underlie the increase in numbers: the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in ADHD awareness.

“This data is in line with other epidemiological research [which looks at the causes, occurrence, and populations affected by ADHD],” says L. Eugene Arnold, MD, MEd, CHADD’s resident expert. Dr. Arnold, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral health at The Ohio State University, has been lead researcher on many ADHD studies.

The pandemic experience and increased awareness

In the last twenty years, CHADD and other ADHD organizations have worked to increase ADHD awareness and how it can affect adults, children, and families. CHADD, as a member of the ADHD Awareness Coalition and through its many individual efforts, has promoted and provided science-based information on the condition. Increased awareness also helps to make it possible for students to receive academic accommodations and for some adults to receive workplace accommodations. As stigmas decrease, more people are comfortable discussing their own ADHD diagnosis and how it affects them daily.

“This is something that we’re seeing every day. We’re having more and more families coming in and patients wondering if they do have ADHD,” says Willough Jenkins, MD, a psychiatrist at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego who was not involved in the study.

This increased awareness continued into the COVID-19 pandemic. Students attending school online and adults working from home made the symptoms of ADHD more noticeable and harder to manage for many people.

“It gave parents a prolonged observation period of their child trying to focus and trying to do academic work,” said Yamalis Diaz, PhD, a child and adolescent psychologist at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center. “Parents are now observing, ‘My gosh, my child interrupts me fifty times a day just to do one task.’”

A positive interpretation of the study

Melissa Danielson, MSPH, a statistician at the CDC and lead author of the study, suggests that the results can be seen as “positive finding.”

The study recommends that more children receive regular screening for ADHD and other neurological conditions with a goal of early interventions that can position them to be more successful in the future.

“There’s more providers that are comfortable with making those diagnoses and treating ADHD, which can allow for children to be helped by different medications or behavior therapy or school services,” Danielson says. “So, since there are more opportunities for these kids to be helped, I think there’s more incentive to get that kind of diagnosis.”

Dr. Diaz agrees that understanding the numbers of children who are likely to have ADHD can lead to improvements for individual children.

“The reason for the diagnosis isn’t simply to label kids,” she says. “It really is to identify where there might be some challenges that we can actually rectify and course correct.”

Study data by the numbers

In 2022, 11.4% of children aged 3–17 years (7.1 million) in the United States had ever been diagnosed with ADHD by a healthcare provider, according to parent report. Of those who were ever diagnosed, 92.6% had current ADHD, or 10.5% of US children (6.5 million).

The prevalence of children ever diagnosed with ADHD increased by age: 2.4% of children aged 3–5 years (274,000 children), 11.5% of children aged 6–11 years (2.8 million), and 15.5% of adolescents aged 12–17 years (4.0 million) had ever been diagnosed with ADHD. The prevalence of ADHD for both boys and girls increased in early childhood and stabilized by adolescence.

ADHD Prevalence Among U.S. Children and Adolescents in 2022: Diagnosis, Severity, Co-Occurring Disorders, and Treatment

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