Impact of ADHD on Individuals, Families, and Society
Children with ADHD experience an inability to sit still and pay attention in class and the negative consequences of such behavior. They experience peer rejection and engage in a broad array of disruptive behaviors. Their academic and social difficulties have far-reaching and long-term consequences. These children have higher injury rates. As they grow older, children with untreated ADHD in combination with conduct disorders experience drug abuse, antisocial behavior, and injuries of all sorts. For many individuals, the impact of ADHD continues into adulthood. Families who have children with ADHD, as with other behavioral disorders and chronic diseases, experience increased levels of parental frustration, marital discord, and divorce. In addition, the direct costs of medical care for children and youth with ADHD are substantial. These costs represent a serious burden for many families because they frequently are not covered by health insurance.
In the larger world, these individuals consume a disproportionate share of resources and attention from the health care system, criminal justice system, schools, and other social service agencies. Methodological problems preclude precise estimates of the cost of ADHD to society. However, these costs are large. For example, additional national public school expenditures on behalf of students with ADHD may have exceeded $3 billion in 1995. Moreover, ADHD, often in conjunction with coexisting conduct disorders, contributes to societal problems such as violent crime and teenage pregnancy.
Families of children impaired by the symptoms of ADHD are in a very difficult position. The painful decision-making process to determine appropriate treatment for these children is often made substantially worse by the media war between those who overstate the benefits of treatment and those who overstate the dangers of treatment.
Barriers to Treating ADHD
Studies identify a number of barriers to appropriate identification, evaluation, and treatment of ADHD. Barriers to identification and evaluation arise when central screening programs limit access to mental health services. The lack of insurance coverage for psychiatric or psychological evaluations, behavior modification programs, school consultation, parent management training, and other specialized programs, presents a major barrier to accurate classification, diagnosis, and management of ADHD. Substantial cost barriers exist in that diagnosis results in out-of-pocket costs to families for services not covered by managed care or other health insurance. Mental health benefits are carved out of many policies offered to families, thus access to treatment other than medication might be severely limited. Parity for mental health conditions in insurance plans is essential. Another cost implication lies in the fact that there is no funded special education category specifically for ADHD, which leaves these students under served, and there is currently no tracking or monitoring of children with ADHD who are served outside of special education. This results in educational and mental health service sources disputing responsibility for coverage of special educational services.
Barriers exist in relationship to gender, race, socioeconomic factors, and geographical distribution of physicians who identify and evaluate patients with ADHD.
Other important barriers include those perceived by patients, families, and clinicians. These include lack of information, concerns about risks of medications, loss of parental rights, fear of professionals, social stigma, negative pressures from families and friends against seeking treatment, and jeopardizing jobs and military service. For health care providers, the lack of specialists and difficulties obtaining insurance coverage as outlined above present significant obstacles to care.
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