February 28, 2018

Data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), published earlier this year, found that the number of U.S. children diagnosed with ADHD has remained steady since 2014. Still, the survey’s authors write, the large number of children diagnosed with ADHD — approximately 6.1 million — remains significant enough to warrant more focused research, new treatment strategies, and a more holistic understanding of patient outcomes.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regularly conducts the NSCH, which collects overarching data on the physical health and mental wellbeing of children between the ages of 2 and 17 living in the United States. The survey underwent a redesign before its 2016 deployment, the researchers said, allowing parents to disclose whether their child had ever been diagnosed with, treated for, or had outgrown previously observed symptoms of ADHD.

According to the new weighted data, an estimated 6.1 million U.S. children (about 9.4 percent of the nation’s population under 18) had ever been diagnosed with ADHD — approximately the same number that was reported in 2014. Survey respondents reported that a slightly smaller number — 5.4 million — were currently living with ADHD, meaning that almost 90 percent of all previously diagnosed children were still struggling with symptoms. More than 60 percent of the children with ADHD reported taking medication, while slightly less than half said they had received behavioral therapy in the year prior to the data’s collection.

Though the researchers caution that the 2016 data may not be directly comparable to that of previous years, it’s possible that diagnosis rates — which have risen steadily over the past few decades — are beginning to plateau. However, ADHD is still a “highly prevalent and high-impact neurodevelopmental disorder,” the authors write. They urge clinicians, school officials, and other ADHD experts to diligently monitor this population to stay ahead of changing treatment needs and current diagnosis trends.

“This information can help clinicians understand ongoing trends in the frequency of the diagnosis of ADHD in the community and the types of treatment received by children with ADHD,” the authors wrote. “Recognition of these trends is particularly important for clinical and school psychologists, as they can play an integral role in the diagnosis and treatment of children with ADHD, particularly for the administration of evidence-based behavioral treatments that have been shown to be effective in improving symptoms and outcomes for children with ADHD.”

The survey1 was published January 24 in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

1 Danielson, Melissa L., et al. “Prevalence of Parent-Reported ADHD Diagnosis and Associated Treatment Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2016.” Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 24 Jan. 2018, pp. 1–14., doi:10.1080/15374416.2017.1417860.

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