The probability of an ADHD misdiagnosis is greater when people are diagnosed by non-mental health professionals such as a general physician or family doctor. The condition should only be diagnosed by one with experience diagnosing ADHD.
As a doctor who treats ADHD and the mother of a son with ADHD, I am aware that some folks staunchly believe that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder does not exist.
I am familiar with the arguments that claim ADHD is a largely “manufactured” condition - a great hoax committed by the pharmaceutical industry in order to make money by prescribing unnecessary medications to children who are simply behaving like energetic children.
Do most young children exhibit exuberance and hyperactivity? Of course. Do they watch too much television, consume too much sugar, play too many video games, and spend too much time in front of computers rather than play outside or engaging in more meaningful activities? Sure.
However, the pivotal difference between children merely behaving like children and children with ADHD is that the diagnostic criteria for ADHD is very specific in that it stipulates that the severity of symptoms grossly inhibit daily functioning.
In other words, many young children are occasionally hyperactive but when it gets to the point that the child is unable to sit still in class, unable to focus on school work to the point of failing classes, or the parents are unable to handle the child's meltdowns in public settings, then the possibility of ADHD must be assessed.
Therefore, my answer is always the same: ADHD is a condition as real as Cancer or Diabetes.
In fact, brain scans of children with ADHD are different than those without the condition. For example, the frontal lobes in children with ADHD receive less blood flow and show less brainwave activity compared to children without ADD/ADHD.
The frontal lobes are responsible for executive functioning and are involved in higher order cognitive tasks such as attention, organization, and impulse control. If this area of the brain receives less blood flow and is less developed, then ADHD is a likely result.
However, if you feel that you or your child is misdiagnosed, then seek a second opinion from another mental health professional. Do not rely on primary care physicians to make the diagnosis, as they do not specialize in treating the condition. See a psychiatrist or neurological psychologist.
Do some homework by learning about the condition. Check the ADHD symptoms to see if they match your child. And keep in mind that the some symptoms of conditions such as depression or anxiety (inability to focus, worrying, daydreaming) can mirror the symptoms of ADHD. That is why it is import to know what is involved in diagnosing ADHD.
This way you, your child, or your loved ones will be far less likely to experience improper treatment due to an ADHD misdiagnosis.