Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder better known by the acronym ADHD has become one of the fastest growing mental health disorders facing juveniles. It is estimated that approximately ten percent of school-aged children between the ages of three to seventeen have ADHD. Additionally, ADHD does not occur equally in boys and girls. Statistics show that ADHD is considerably more prevalent in boys than in girls. In school-aged children, ADHD is found in approximately ten percent of boys and only four percent of girls.
Contrary to popular belief, ADHD is much more than a child with a high energy level and a problem concentrating. Studies have identified some of the common consequences associated with ADHD in school-aged children which include: significant lapses in judgment, inability to assess risky activities, the increased likelihood in substance abuse, as well as deficient performance in school. These lapses in judgment and diminished scholastic performance are significant deviations from the average school-aged child. Those who have been diagnosed with ADHD are nearly three times as likely to use controlled substances and have run-ins with law enforcement when compared to a child who has not been diagnosed with ADHD. With this in mind, it is not a complete shock to know that approximately seventy-six percent of incarcerated juvenile boys have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Aside from exercising poor judgment and engaging in self-medication through the misuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs, children diagnosed with ADHD also have an increased occurrence of physical outbursts. Although there is no correlation between ADHD and aggressive behavior, children diagnosed with ADHD are involved in physical altercations with greater frequency. One reason this is thought to occur is that children diagnosed with ADHD often have trouble expressing themselves. Because interaction and communication with others are often more complex than what is orally spoken, children with ADHD resort to physical altercations as a defense mechanism when they feel threatened even when someone is not a credible threat. This is due to the fact that children with ADHD are not as receptive to various social cues and other forms of nonverbal communication that would indicate a perceived threat is no longer a threat.
In many cases, this path of poor judgment is increased exponentially due to the negative attention that is received by peers. Most youths tend to get a large amount of self-worth through peers in school, mainly because the majority of a child’s daily life is spent at school. Children diagnosed with ADHD often struggle in school and tend to be categorized as loners and are often ignored by other children. In some instances in order to avoid becoming a loner many children diagnosed with ADHD will engage in attention-getting behavior that often has negative consequences. This negative attention often results in a sense of respect from peers and a labeling as the “bad boy” or “bad girl” which is seen as a much better title to hold than the loner. Despite the short-term reward that is felt, these small outbursts of behavior often lead a child to the juvenile justice system.
Once a child diagnosed with ADHD enters the juvenile justice system they become exposed to other youthful offenders who have engaged in a wide range of risky activities. These risky activities are then passed along to those entering the juvenile justice system for the first time, a large number being children diagnosed with ADHD. Once exposed to these riskier activities the situation is only exacerbated and the child diagnosed with ADHD if left untreated will continue to account for twenty-five percent of all those incarcerated in the United States.