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ADHD: The stigma is gone

Consumer Reports News: July 20, 2010 05:38 AM

There was a time when the label of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) carried a stigma. Parents didn’t talk much about it, and kids didn’t want their classmates to know that they were taking medication. But there seems to have been a shift in acceptance over the past few years, almost a complete about-face. Celebrities such as Olympic Gold Medal winner Michael Phelps, Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel, and Extreme Makeover’s Ty Pennington speak out about their condition. And just last week, the popular website Jezebel posted a blog that begins with the confession: "Because I have raging ADHD…"

Even the treatment has gone mainstream. The same drugs prescribed for ADHD are being sought for their brain-boosting capacity and are believed to enhance memory and concentration in adults. Scientists are asking for them, college kids are sharing them on campuses, and baby boomers are extolling their powers at parties. So frequently are patients requesting them that just last year the American Academy of Neurology issued a guidance for potential prescribers like me.

Indeed, when it came to using medication, a Consumer Reports survey of 934 parents of children with ADHD found that parents were not very concerned about the stigma of being labeled with ADHD. Among parents who had given their child medication, 59 percent disagreed strongly with the statement: "I feel guilty or embarrassed about having my child take medication for ADHD."

And 8 percent even sought out the diagnosis from a professional in order get their child extra time on standardized tests like the SATs. College applicants are begging psychologists to label them as having ADHD so frequently that tips on meeting the requirements are flooding the Internet. Apparently, even future doctors with ADHD have joined the fray; so many have requested accommodation that the Association of American Medical Colleges has posted their policy* online.

While the competition heats up for the rewards of the label, parents with real-life ADHD kids at home still struggle to find optimal management for their academic and behavioral challenges. After all, 22 percent of those in our survey found it was a problem that their child was labeled at school, 27 percent said it was difficult for their child to maintain friendships, and 32 percent reported that the attention focused on the ADHD child at home negatively affected other family relationships. To learn from parents who have been there, including how medication works and which experts helped the most, see our latest report.

Orly Avizur, M.D., Consumer Reports medical adviser

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