October is ADHD Awareness Month!

ADHD Awareness Month aims to educate the public about ADHD, through publicizing reliable research and information. The organization boasts coalitions with five major members: the ADHD Coaches Organization,  Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), ADDitude Magazine, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), and The National Resource Center on ADHD (NRC). Together, these coalition members create a phenomenal collection of resources for parents, family-members, friends, professionals and patients with ADHD. The movement’s website also includes a list of relevant and popular blog posts surrounding ADHD, along with resources about symptoms, treatments, and diagnosis.

The movement seeks to not only educate the general population regarding ADHD, but also to target patients themselves in promoting a positive outlook and self-esteem. In featuring 31 stories of patients and their family-members, a central part of the movement’s focus is redefining ADHD as just one part of somebody’s personality that does not encompass who they are. The mission is to advocate against discrimination or daily stereotyping that people with ADHD face and to award legitimacy to the disorder which many still see as a personality flaw. Moreover, ADHD Awareness Month is extremely valuable in disseminating knowledge about ADHD’s less publicized issues, like receiving extra time on examinations in college and for raising funds for research.

This is a national project. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued the following statement earlier this month on Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Awareness Month. He discussed the strides we have made as a country in matriculating more and more kids with ADHD and learning disabilities and emphasized the humanity aspect in understanding how the disorders affect patients and their families: “While we should celebrate these accomplishments, we also must recognize that there is more to do to ensure that students with learning disabilities, dyslexia, and ADHD have every opportunity to fulfill their potential, attain higher education, and obtain good jobs at the same rates as their peers.”  The support for ADHD Awareness Month is rapidly growing. Their Facebook page has over 15,000 likes.

However, not everyone is on board with ADHD’s popularity and awareness campaigns. In 2013, the CDC reported that 15% of high school students have been diagnosed with ADHD and the number of kids on medication had increased to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990. Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor at Duke University claims, “The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous… This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.” Many blame the wildly successful pharmaceutical campaign by drug companies to publicize the disorder and promote medication to doctors, educators, parents and patients. In ten years, sales of ADHD medication increased from $1.7 billion to $9 billion, according to the data company IMS Health. While raising awareness is necessary and noble, many argue that the awareness campaigns have gone too far in popularizing ADHD. For example, advocacy groups have recruited celebrities like Adam Levine of Maroon 5 for their campaign: “It’s you’re ADHD- Own It.” Some suggest this over-popularization of ADHD can lead to over-diagnosis and over-medication. Another complication is that many of the non-profit organizations involved in raising awareness are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, raising the possibility of ulterior motives in publicizing ADHD. CHADD, one of ADHD Awareness Month’s coalition members, for example, was reported to have received about $1 million a year, one-third of its annual revenue, from pharmaceutical company grants and advertising. Does this impede the organization’s mission to raise awareness for the sake of education or empowerment? Maybe not, but it is something to keep in mind.

Regardless of the status of ADHD as a diagnosis, we can all agree that attention issues are important and deserve inspection. New research out of Duke University suggests that attention issues may even be the primary predictor of academic achievement. The study finds that children with more attention difficulties early on not only have lower achievement scores in reading and math, but also are 40% less likely to graduate from high school. Attention difficulties often go hand in hand with socio-emotional issues, which cause poor learning-enhancing behaviors like classroom engagement and relationships with teachers and peers, further contributing to decreased long-term academic success. Given the crucial role attention skills have in academic development, it is increasingly urgent that we develop new programs and tools for combatting the causes and effects of ADHD. Let’s pay attention to attention…it’s October!