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Advocacy Group Issues Guides for Diagnosing ADHD

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New guidelines for diagnosing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder will help physicians and school officials better recognize the condition, the advocacy group that drafted the document says.

The National Attention Deficit Disorder Association, a nonprofit group that advocates for children and adults with the disorder, hopes its just-issued guidelines will help doctors reduce misdiagnoses of ADHD and better treat individuals with the disorder.

The document offers the most comprehensive guide to the disorder to date, drawing on the findings of practicing physicians, as well as recent research, according to Dr. Craig B. Liden, a physician in private practice in Monroeville, Pa., who specializes in developmental and behavioral medicine and helped write the guidelines.

"It became clear to us that there wasn't any clean, simple set of guidelines for either professionals or consumers," he said last week. Although researchers have gained a better understanding of what causes the disorder and how it should be treated, most of their new findings have not been widely disseminated outside the professionals who primarily work with ADHD patients, Dr. Liden added.

Overdiagnosis has become a rising concern for schools as more children have been identified as having ADHD. According to a report by the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board earlier this year, some 3 percent to 5 percent of U.S. schoolchildren take Ritalin, a prescription drug often used to treat ADHD. ("Panel Calls for More Caution in Diagnosing,Treating ADD,"March 13, 1996.)

The Ohio-based attention-deficit association plans to send copies of its guidelines to principals, counselors, and other officials in the coming months to help them spot possible symptoms in students.

Children with the disorder are unable to concentrate and, in many cases, are impulsive and hyperactive. ADHD affects between 3 and 9 percent of the population, according to ADDA. A child with ADHD can qualify for special education under federal law.

Caution on Medication

Nancy D. Safer, the executive director of the Council for Exceptional Children in Reston, Va., said school administrators should already be aware of most of the information contained in the guidelines, but she added that it could be a useful reference.

The guidelines-writing process took nearly a year. Association members surveyed all medical and psychological literature, as well as any other research they could find on ADHD, then interviewed professionals who had extensive experience with patients.

In recent years, Dr. Liden said, researchers have found increasing evidence that adhd is a genetic disorder that does not go away as patients get older.

The document urges physicians and others to consider a person's medical history and lifestyle when looking for the disorder.

Medication should not be prescribed until a comprehensive evaluation is completed, the document says, and it should not be the sole form of treatment.

For free copies, call or write the National Attention Deficit Disorder Association, 9330 Johnnycake Ridge Road, Suite 3-E, Mentor, Ohio 44060; (800) 487-2282. Or visit the ADDA Web site at http://www.add.org.

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