Thousands of kids with ADHD are
underdiagnosed and undertreated for the disorder.
Why is this happening, and how
can we fix it?
BY DEVON FRYE
When she was finally diagnosed with ADHD—after more than three decades of wondering what was wrong with her—Janel Dillard, of Clinton, Maryland, did what count-
less others before her have done: She threw herself into re-
search. She watched online videos, read newspaper articles,
and scoured the Internet for information on the neuroscience
of ADHD and how she could best treat it. But from the moment
she started her research, she said, she noticed something trou-
bling: “I don’t often see people who look like me.” Janel, 36, is
African American, and she grapples with an uncomfortable
truth: The face of ADHD in the U.S. is not black or brown, it is
white—both in terms of the patients being diagnosed and the
clinicians evaluating and treating them.
Evidence shows that people of color—black and Latino in
particular—are much less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD,
even though they show symptoms at the same rate as white
people. And if they are diagnosed, they aren’t as likely to
receive treatment—even though many studies show that it can
dramatically help kids and adults manage symptoms.
“ADHD is not a privileged disability,” said Paul Morgan,
Ph.D., professor of education and director of the Center for
Educational Disparities Research, at Pennsylvania State Uni-
versity. “We don’t want a situation where ADHD is a condition
for wealthy white families. We want to be helping children
who have disabilities, regardless of their race or ethnicity. But
what we’re finding is consistent evidence that white and
English-speaking children are more likely to be identified—
and that’s an inequity.”
The reasons for these disparities are complex, experts say,
and correcting them will involve a multi-pronged approach
that will most likely take decades—if not longer—to fully
implement. But the ramifications of ignoring the problem are
severe. Properly diagnosed and treated ADHD can change the
arc of a person’s life, helping her manage everything from
schoolwork to relationships to career—critical areas where
people of color often face already-strong disadvantages.
Undiagnosed ADHD, on the other hand—particularly its high
association with risky behavior, drug use, and depression—can