Special Education

National Survey Puts ADHD Incidence Near 7 Percent

By Darcia Harris Bowman — May 29, 2002 2 min read
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Approximately 1.6 million elementary school children in the United States have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the first nationwide survey on the condition.

Read “Attention Deficit Disorder and Learning Disability,” from the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Drawing on responses from 78,041 households canvassed by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1997 and 1998, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta found that parents of nearly 7 percent of children ages 6 to 11 reported having been told by health-care providers that those children had ADHD.

That finding, released last week, tracks with a smaller analysis released in March by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., that estimated a minimum of 7.5 percent of school-age children have the disorder. (“Study: Minimum ADHD Incidence Is 7.5 Percent,” March 27, 2002.)

The CDC study also looked at the incidence of learning disorders among children in the elementary-age group and found that 7.7 percent, or about 1.8 million, had at least one learning disability.

An estimated 2.6 million U.S. children have either ADHD or a learning disability, or both. Overall, 3.3 percent of all American 6- to 11-year-olds have ADHD, 4.2 percent have learning disabilities, and 3.5 percent have both, the study said.

Dr. David Fleming, the acting director of the CDC, said in a statement that the survey provides a valuable snapshot of ADHD. But he cautioned that “much more needs to be learned about ADHD and about the spectrum of impairments associated with ADHD.”

Gender Gap

According to the survey, the percentage of boys diagnosed with the behavioral disorder was almost three times greater than that of girls, while learning disorders were equally common in both genders. White children are more likely than Hispanic or black children to be diagnosed with ADHD.

The results of the study suggest that having access to health care may strongly influence ADHD diagnosis. Children whose families had private insurance or Medicaid were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than those without some form of medical insurance.

The authors found that among children without a diagnosis of either ADHD or a learning disorder, only 3 percent had seen a mental-health professional during the past 12 months.

Among children diagnosed with either condition, the percent who had received mental-health care in the past year was 17 percent for those with learning disorders, 34 percent for those with just ADHD, and 51 percent for those with both.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 29, 2002 edition of Education Week as National Survey Puts ADHD Incidence Near 7 Percent


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