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ADHD: The Real Attention Deficit

As my son approaches adulthood, I am concerned about his progress as a high school student-athlete and what the future holds considering the world in which we live. Raising an African American son is a unique and rewarding experience; however, the medical and academic communities continue to fail minority cultures by ignoring the needs for education and treatment resources. 

For years ADHD was a condition only associated with White children by African Americans and other minority cultures. 

Behavioral perception in children within minority cultures is interpreted much differently than other cultures. My son’s third grade teacher asked for a conference one day to discuss his behavior. I was shocked when she suggested that my son should be tested for ADHD. Thankfully, it was quite the opposite and that one day opened my eyes to another world.   

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) impacts millions of children and adults. It is usually recognized in children at an early age in the form of behavior. The child finds normal tasks such as focusing, communicating, sitting still, expressing frustrations and even sleeping challenging. 

For minority children, and others of diverse ethnic backgrounds, the problem is that it is not acknowledged as a legitimate condition. According to Bailey and Ofoemozie, after conducting a study among 224 African American parents and 262 White parents, only 69% compared to 95% were even aware of the condition of ADHD. History has its way of influencing the deaf ear and a blind eye. For years ADHD was a condition only associated with White children by African Americans and other minority cultures. 

It is not unusual for the symptoms and associated behaviors to be ignored in minority households. People label the child as “bad,” a stigma which has scarred our undiagnosed children for generations. Left ignored and untreated, records of these behaviors follow them into adulthood where a negative, unsupportive society awaits. Even though African American boys are referred to mental health agencies for help, it is not likely that they will receive the needed treatment. In 2016–2018, nearly 14% of children aged 3–17 years were reported as having been diagnosed with either attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a learning disability; non-Hispanic black children were the most likely to be diagnosed (16.9%). Over the decades, the numbers continue to rise. However, they are not categorized fairly by ethnicity, socioeconomic status or gender given that minorities are the most diagnosed or misdiagnosed. 

Cultural disparities such as family dynamics, healthcare discrimination and physician bias play a vital role in accessing provider care. The goal of treatment is to manage behavior, improve academic performance, interpersonal skills and encourage independence.  A valid diagnosis is a strong determinant in patient outcomes. Lack of specific diagnostic tests, limited observation environments, non-cooperation of informants such as parents and teachers and inconsistent evaluation processes challenge the overall process for minorities. So much is missing from the knowledge base that our minority populations lack the essential components that have the most impact. 

“African American parents (57%) are more likely to believe that their children’s race or ethnicity and fears of being ‘labeled’ remain one of the important factors preventing acceptance of the diagnosis and treatment of children with ADHD.”

Education and increasing awareness within the minority communities was a positive first step. Meeting the needs of our youth often means meeting the needs of the parents. Reliable information helps redefine stereotypes and clear up myths behind the condition while providing data that supports the engagement of minorities and rural populations promotes parental inclusion in the specifics of the condition, associated signs and symptoms and diagnosis. 

Knowledge is the key to resolving the issues surrounding decades of mistrust, stereotypes and misinterpreted behaviors of our youth. When we know better, we can definitely do better so that our minority children are NOWINCLUDED.    

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