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Report: More Than 10,000 Toddlers Medicated For ADHD

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Dr. Mallika Marshall, WBZ-TV Medical Reporter Dr. Mallika Marshall
Dr. Mallika Marshall is WBZ-TV News’ Medical Reporter and contributes...
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BOSTON (CBS) — There are an alarming number of toddlers given medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to a published report.

More than 10,000 American two and three-year-olds are now being medicated for ADHD, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and first reported by the New York Times.

Experts say it’s not only appalling, it’s irresponsible.

“Developmentally, you’re supposed to be scattered and disorganized as a toddler,” Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist at Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, told WBZ-TV.

Rappaport has been diagnosing and treating children with ADHD for more than 20 years and says she doesn’t treat children under six with medication, and certainly not under four, especially since stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall haven’t been studied in children that young.

“Under six years old, you give a child a medication, they are exquisitely sensitive to medications so they may be more likely have irritability, trouble sleeping and you’re not addressing the difficulty of a child concentrating.”

The report also showed that lower-income toddlers are more likely to receive stimulants than their wealthier peers, but experts say instead of jumping to a diagnosis of ADHD in these children, take a look at their home life first.

“Sometimes poor families may have trauma, neglect, or parent substance abuse and in those situations, you may have children who have trouble focusing or run out of the classroom and it’s because of the underlying trauma that’s on in their life and their signaling the difficulty they’re in.”

Rappaport says that even though ADHD is often overdiagnosed, it exists and about 6-percent of the population truly has it. And medication, for many children, can make a huge difference in their lives.

“Sometimes it can be the experience of taking a stimulant for a child, it’s as if they finally had the windshield wipers turned on, and they can function in school.”

But medicate a two or three-year-old for behavioral problems?

“I can’t defend it. It’s ridiculous,” she says.

If you’re concerned that your child may have ADHD, Rappaport suggests talking with your pediatrician and to someone else who has observed your child’s behavior, like a daycare worker or teacher, to see if they agree the behavior is out of the norm.

Rappaport says every child should undergo a careful evaluation and behavioral therapy before ever being started on medication.

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