Experts Assail Undertreatment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in African American Youth

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Renowned Child Psychiatrists Report to Congressional Black Caucus

WASHINGTON—PRNewswire—A panel of experts voiced concerns to the Congressional Black Caucus about misperceptions of attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) in the African American community during a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by Children and Adults with Attention- Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Co-sponsored by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) and Donna Christian-Christensen (U.S. Virgin Islands), the panel presented scientific evidence that African Americans with AD/HD are often undertreated and discussed the devastating implications for minority communities when denied appropriate access to care.

“Claims that AD/HD is not a real disorder or that it is caused by too much sugar or bad parenting are completely false and are, in fact, harmful to concerned parents trying valiantly to find ways to help their children,” reported Marilyn Benoit, M.D., child psychiatrist, assistant professor of Psychiatry at Howard University College of Medicine, and immediate past president, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “Scientific studies demonstrate that the real problem is the undertreatment of AD/HD among African American children and teens.”

AD/HD is characterized by developmentally inappropriate impulsivity, attention, and in some cases, hyperactivity. It is a neurobiological disorder(1) that affects 3-5 percent of school-age children.(2,3,4) Until recently, most people believed that children outgrew AD/HD in adolescence, perhaps because hyperactivity often diminishes during this time. Research demonstrates that many symptoms continue into adulthood. In fact, recent studies reflect rates of roughly 2-4 percent among adults.(5)

AD/HD is the current diagnostic label for a condition that has been recognized and studied for more than a century. Over the years it has been called several other names including “brain damaged syndrome,” “minimal brain dysfunction (MBD),” “hyperkinetic impulsive disorder” and “attention deficit disorder.”

“CHADD is committed to supporting the recommendations set forth by both the Surgeon General’s 2001 report on mental health in minority populations(6) and the President’s New Freedom Mental Health Commission,”(7) said E. Clarke Ross, D.P.A., chief executive officer of CHADD. “This briefing is one of several CHADD initiatives to increase cultural competency in the AD/HD and mental health fields and eliminate disparities in care for minority populations.”

The Congressional Black Caucus educational briefing continues CHADD’s multi-year education initiative centered on the theme “Just A.S.K. — AD/HD. Science. Knowledge.” The initiative is designed to combat the many common myths and misperceptions about AD/HD and to educate communities about the facts of the disorder.

“AD/HD is a real disorder that impacts all of us, regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Evelyn Green, M.S.Ed., immediate past president of CHADD and an African American parent of a son with AD/HD. “I encourage policymakers, parents, school administrators and educators alike to seek science-based information to make sound decisions on behalf of all children with AD/HD.”

Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., spoke at the briefing via a video address on the impact of untreated AD/HD in the African American community, particularly the damaging belief that it does not exist. Dr. Satcher commented that while there have been assertions that children are being overdiagnosed with AD/HD, a report issued by his office in 2001-Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity-found little evidence of overdiagnosis or overprescription of medications. The report also found that the greater issue for African American children is lack of access to comprehensive assessment and to appropriate treatment options.