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A recent study has shown that incidences of ADHD in children and teenagers increased from 7.8% to 11% – with 20% of high-school boys being diagnosed with the condition.

As Medicine applicants will be aware, increases in self-reported studies can happen for a vast array of reasons; the ADHD spike could be because of an increase in the frequency of the condition, but could also be because more people are disclosing their medical history, or because public awareness leads to more diagnoses than in the early 2000s.

A clinical psychologist and ADHD expert, Michelle Frank, argues that the increasing diagnosis could be aligned with something else that has increased over the past decade: standardized testing. Frank notes that “people with ADHD struggle with executive functions, and the more pressure to meet expectations that require a lot of executive function skills, the more you will see increases in people who can’t meet those demands.”

Biological Sciences and Psychology applicants perhaps best understand ‘executive function’ as the skills that help people to complete tasks, such as the ability to manage time, pay attention, and switch focus. The increase in standardized tests, and the increase in pressure to perform well at executive function, correlates with increased diagnoses of ADHD; as homework and testing increases, so does the reality that many people struggle to keep up with these demands.

HSPS applicants should think more broadly on how the educational system caters to the diversity of mental health in its students; Frank also argues that funding cuts from programmes such as arts and athletics – where ADHD students might flourish – have led to school welcoming a neurotypical brain at the expense of others.

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