Mistaken for ADHD

By Frank Barnhill, MD

Reviewed by Michael Appollionio

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After reading this book I believe the title says it all: “Mistaken for ADHD.” The author, Dr. Frank Barnhill, attempts to help parents, teachers, social workers and doctors who deal with adolescents and young children determine if their child has ADHD. As stated in his book (which is subtitled, “How you can prevent mislabeling your child as a failure in life in the face of a looming ADHD misdiagnosis crisis”), Dr. Barnhill feels that children today are misdiagnosed with ADHD and he also goes on to discuss the effects misdiagnoses can have on children and their families.

The purpose of Dr. Barnhill’s book is to educate the reader as to other diagnoses, which he calls “zebras,” that have very similar symptoms to ADHD. The author goes on to explain some of the short- and long-term side effects of being misdiagnosed. As a teacher and a person who was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, I really found this book to be helpful, well written and easy to understand. Dr. Barnhill not only gets his point across, but also directs readers to other venues to help them understand what some of these “zebras” are and how they can be treated.

Has ADHD become a fad diagnosis thanks to the media and pharmaceutical industry hype?

I think so. When a parent can’t control a child, or when a teacher sees disruptive behavior in the classroom, the easy answer is, “This kid has ADHD. Put him on medications, and our problems will be solved.” The book does a really good job at explaining how and why so many children are misdiagnosed with ADHD. So many children are put on medications that could have side effects leading to health problems, poor performance in school and behavioral issues. (e.g., when I took Ritalin as a child I became very withdrawn from others.) Treating a child with ADHD medication may work wonders if that child actually has the disorder. The problem is that many doctors, not sufficiently trained in diagnosing ADHD, will make the assessment and prescribe medication in one visit, sometimes without even seeing the child. Sometimes children don’t even get an evaluation; according to the author, many parents take their children to a doctor and the doctor will ask some questions and prescribe medicines.

Dr. Barnhill also mentions in his book that when children are diagnosed as ADHD they are often “labeled” as ADHD and tend to suffer self-esteem issues. Many of these children develop poor social skills that could affect them all the way into adulthood. Sometimes these children seek outlets such as substance abuse and eventually commit criminal behaviors. Some of the other effects of misdiagnosis are financial burdens on the parents such as  paying for unnecessary doctor visits and medications.

Dr. Barnhill mentions the cost educators must pay to revamp school programs and curriculums to deal with ADHD. So not only does misdiagnosis affect children and their families, it can also create schools spending large amounts of money they could use to fill teacher shortages.

According to the author, there are over 40 “zebras” or other diagnoses out there that children could be suffering from. Some of these diagnoses range from poor nutrition to mental illnesses. He states in this book that with the proper diagnosis we can put the children on the right medications (if needed), have the right assistance in schools (misdiagnoses can lead to incorrect learning plans) and avoid the stereotypes of having ADHD.

Even though there are some similarities with some of these other diagnoses, Dr. Barnhill says that it only takes some minor factors to distinguish ADHD from other diagnoses, such as a child suffering from a head trauma from an early accident. Dr. Barnhill shares countless cases of children whose parents came to him for help. Most of these cases, according to the author, the previous doctors did not take the time to perform proper test and exams. Without these procedures, most children will be misdiagnosed and not able to receive the proper treatment and care they need.

Overall, I feel that this book is thorough, easy to understand, well organized, enlightening, and hard to put down. I recommend that every parent, teacher, clinician, and counselor who works with children read this book. It is of vital importance. It can make the difference between a child’s happiness and misery, between his future success and failure.

Growing up diagnosed with ADHD and having to take medications, I found that if my parents had known some of the information in this book I could have avoided the doctor visits, wrong medicines and being “labeled” in the classroom. This is a must read for parents and any professionals out there who work with children on a daily basis.

Mistaken for ADHD: How You Can Prevent Mislabeling Your Child As a Failure in Life in the Face of a Looming ADHD Misdiagnosis
By Frank Barnhill, MD
iUniverse.com: March 22, 2010
Paperback, 380 pages
$24.95

Psych Central's Recommendation:
Worth Your Time! +++

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APA Reference
Appollionio, M. (2011). Mistaken for ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/mistaken-for-adhd/0007993
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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