Rise in ADHD Diagnosis for Hispanic Kids Is not all Bad

PHOTO: A first grade class of 30 children waits to enter a classroom Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, at the Willow Glenn Elementary School in San Jose, Calif.AP Photo/Ben Margot
A first grade class of 30 children waits to enter a classroom Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, at the Willow Glenn Elementary School in San Jose, Calif.

Hispanic and black children have seen a jump in their diagnosis rates for Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder – and that's a good thing.

A recent study by Kaiser Permanente found that the overall rate of ADHD diagnosis for children increased 24 percent from 2.5 percent in 2001 to 3.1 percent in 2010. Broken down for race and ethnicity, rates for Hispanic and black children increase 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively, over the 9-year period. Experts argue this is a step in the right direction because it means more children with the neurobehavioral disorder are likely to be treated.

The study looked at the electronic health records of nearly 850,000 ethnically diverse children, aged 5 to 11 years. It found that among these children, 4.9 percent, or 39,200, had a diagnosis of ADHD.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 4 percent and 12 percent of all children have the disorder. However, marked differences exist in rates of diagnosis between children of different ethnicities. Only 2.5 percent of Hispanic children in the study had been diagnosed in 2010, up from 1.7 percent in 2001. Whites, at 5.6 percent, have the highest rate of diagnosis.

Researcher and author of the study Darios Gatahun suggested diagnosis rates could have increased because parents and physicians were more aware of the disorder and had increased access to preventative health screenings and treatment.

However, while overall diagnoses were up, Hispanics were distinct in that many children were diagnosed at an older age. Getahum emphasized the importance of early diagnosis for children.

"The timing of the diagnosis is important," Getahun said. "The earlier the diagnosis and the earlier the treatment is initiated, the better the outcome will be for the child."

Research shows that children with ADHD are more likely to have difficulty learning, miss school, or become injured. The annual cost for more than 14 million children who are treated for ADHD is estimated at $36 billion to $52 billion, according to one study.

"We believe that the treatment actually will help children to do good in school and to function socially," Getahun said. "If you delay that for a child, imagine what will happen for a child in the future."