NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

New Test For ADHD

December 11, 2002

A handful of clinics around the country are offering what they say are more objective tests to diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The tests eliminate much of the guesswork surrounding the disorder -- and should help settle the debate over whether it really is widespread among young children, or simply widely over-diagnosed.

The tests, which use computers to measure concentration and brain scans to detect differences from normal brains, are controversial, very expensive, and researchers are still learning to interpret them.

  • One big problem is that the scans, which can cost $1,000 or more, generally aren't covered by insurance.
  • Of greater concern is that the scans expose young brains to radioactive material, and critics say there's no research on any long-term effect.
  • It's important to note that many children being treated for ADHD show marked improvement on medication, and additional testing likely isn't necessary.

But the tests can be helpful for parents who question the diagnosis or for children who aren't showing signs of improvement from medication. Another, less tangible, benefit is the reassurance objective testing can give to the person who is diagnosed with the disorder.

Source: Tara Parker-Pope, "New ADHD Tests Claim More Objective Diagnoses," The Wall Street Journal, December 10, 2002

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