THE NEWS: First ADHD brain wave test approved by FDA

The FDA has just approved a new device that will, health practitioners hope, make it easier to diagnose Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. 

CBS News story reports that the Neuropsychiatric EEG-Based Assessment Aid (NEBA) System uses an electroencephalogram test to measure a patient’s brain waves.  The test, which measures the ratio between the theta and beta waves in the child or teen brain (shown to be higher in those with ADHD), will be used in conjunction with the usual behavioral and psychiatric evaluations, which can prove “tricky” to judge on their own. 

There will surely be a large market for such technology, as the story reports that “ADHD is the most prevalent mental health disorder for U.S. children and adolescents, affecting nearly 7 percent of kids between the ages of 3 and 17 years old.”  “Kids with ADHD,” the story continues, “often have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors and/or are overly active.”  

Recent research indicates that it seems to be no small coincidence that increased diagnoses of ADHD and increased levels of divorce and single parenthood are occurring simultaneously.  This latest medical advance seems to be one more example of the ways in which our already bloated medical system is suffering the effects of family breakdown.

THE RESEARCH: Short attention span

Educational officials struggle to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of students manifesting the symptoms associated with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  But not all students are equally at risk of developing this disorder.  In a recent study, researchers at universities in Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama report that children in intact families are decidedly at less risk for developing ADHD than are peers from broken homes.

The family-structure predictors of ADHD stand out in this new study as part of a broader effort to comprehend a disorder widely recognized as “one of the most common childhood neurobehavioral disorders” found in the catalogue of “psychiatric, behavioral, and learning disorders . . . [that have] increased over the past decade.”  The researchers explain that “ADHD is characterized by pervasive and developmentally inappropriate symptoms such as severe lack of attention, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity that affects children and persists through adulthood in 30–50% of ADHD affected children.”  Psychologists report that this “multi-factorial and clinically heterogeneous disorder . . . affects about 9% to 15% of school going children in the US.”

To identify the social, personal, demographic, financial, and behavioral predictors of ADHD, the researchers scrutinize data collected for a nationally representative sample of 68,634 children ages 5 to 17 years old.  These data establish a number of predictors of ADHD.  For instance, children who watched more than an hour of television a day or who lived with a smoker were decidedly more at risk of ADHD than were peers who watched less television or who did not live with a smoker.  But no predictor of ADHD is freighted with greater social significance than is that of family structure: the researchers report that children who lived in a two-parent family faced “decreased odds of being diagnosed with ADHD” (Odds Ratio of 0.70).

The researchers acknowledge that because of “the cross-sectional and observational nature of the data, a cause and effect relationship between ADHD and the associated factors can not be deduced” from their findings.  But the suspicion grows that more than mere coincidence inheres in the apparent linkage between the epidemic of ADHD in recent decades and the breakdown of family life during the same decades.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, “New Research,” The Family in America, Spring 2013, Vol. 27 Number 2. Study: Ravi K. Lingineni et al., “Factors Associated with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder among US Children: Results from a National Survey,” BMC Pediatrics 12 [2012]: 50.)

This article has been republished with permission from The Family in America, a publication of The Howard Center. The Howard Center is a MercatorNet partner site.

Nicole M. King is the Managing Editor of The Howard Center’s quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, the United States’ leading journal of family-policy research....