Houston doctor joins ADHD diagnosis debate

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - A Houston neuroscientist is among the growing group of doctors questioning whether Attention Deficit Disorder or ADHD is "real."

Houston mom and psychology fellow Nizete-Ly Valles told Local 2, she noticed her son Tyler's difficulties concentrating early on.

Valles said, "If that is not ADHD, than I don't know what is. It wasn't until kindergarten the teacher was like, 'Whoa!' The classroom had so much stuff all over and he just wanted to look at everything and touch everything."

Now nine years old, Tyler still struggles. The family has tried everything from relaxation and yoga; everything but medication.

Valles explained, "To us, it is a last resort. If we get to the point where the behavioral strategies just don't work and his grades keep dropping, then I as a mother have to do everything possible to make sure he is learning."

So many families find themselves in the same boat.

ADHD affects between 5-11 percent of kids. It's much more common in boys than girls.

Houston neuroscientist Dr. Bruce Perry with the Child Trauma Academy is joining a growing group of medical experts who have raised eyebrows by questioning whether ADHD is a "real disease" or a "description of symptoms."

Valles said, "If someone tells me it is not ADHD and it is something else that is easier to treat, I am all for it. Until then, I work with (the) ADHD (diagnosis).

Perry and others point to the sharp increase in reported cases of ADHD and medications to treat it.

Baylor College of Medicine Psychiatrist and Harris Health Chief of Psychiatry Dr. Asim Shah told Local 2, "Saying that this disorder does not exist I think would be one extreme because you talk to the people who suffer from that they would tell you how much benefit they are getting from (proper diagnosis)."

Dr. Shah does agree misdiagnosis is a serious issue.

He said, "The bulk of the ADHD diagnosis is being done by pediatricians. With due respect to them, they don't do any testings. With due respect to them, they may not even get a history of two settings or so. A mother or father will bring the child and say, 'My child is having bad grades. He or she cannot focus.' Medications are started and that's where the inflation of the diagnosis (begins). That's where the overuse of medication (begins)."

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5), known as the "Bible" for psychiatrists, has shifted the diagnosis age for ADHD from 7 to 12, allowing for more time to gather patient history.

Dr. Shah explained, "The symptoms need to be present in two out of the three settings. When I say two out of the three settings, we're talking about school, we're talking about home and we're talking about the clinic."

Perry and others recommend therapies such as playing instruments, meditation, even diet rather than drugs.

Dr. Shah told Local 2, "The simple answer is if you're eating healthy diet, that's an ADHD friendly diet."

He added, "it's just like diabetes: if you have mild diabetes maybe you can control it with diet. But if your sugar is 400 or 500, you have to have some treatment."

Dr. Shah said one on one time can help those with ADHD.

Get a full evaluation and he said if you choose medication, start with a low dose, then try taking a break when the new school year starts to see if there's any improvement.

We contacted Dr. Bruce Perry for comment, but he declined our requests for an interview.

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