Israeli Researchers Find Foolproof Method for Diagnosing ADHD

Tracking eye movements could lead to less frequent misdiagnosis

Tweeting Teachers
High school / AP

JERUSALEM—A foolproof method of diagnosing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—a frequently misdiagnosed condition, usually diagnosed in children, that leads to overuse of Ritalin and other medications—has been developed by a group of Israeli medical researchers.

Using a system to track eye movements, according to the journal Vision Research, the team found a direct correlation between ADHD and the inability to suppress eye movement in anticipation of visual stimuli.

Until now, there has been no clear test to determine whether or not a child had ADHD. As a result, it is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed behavioral disorders among children, experts say. Doctors have expressed concern at the large-scale distribution of unnecessary medications to children, which can have adverse side effects.

Nearly one in every five high-school-age boys and 11 percent of children overall in the United States have been diagnosed as having ADHD, a 41 percent rise in a decade. About two thirds receive prescriptions for stimulants such as Ritalin. These figures were described to the New York Times last year by Yale neurologist Dr. William Graf as astronomical. "I’m floored," he said.

Additionally, annual sales of stimulants to treat ADHD more than doubled in five years, from $4 billion in 2007 to $9 billion, according to the Times.

Director of the Center for Disease Control Dr. Thomas R. Frieden told the Times that medication given to persons actually suffering from ADHD can make a "huge difference" in their well-being. "Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate."

Parents often seek Ritalin for children in order to improve their concentration and their grades. Until now, doctors based their diagnoses on the basis of conversations with parents, patients, and teachers and by ruling out other possible causes.

Now, researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and colleagues at Sheba Medical Center and the University of Haifa have come up with a tool that is, they say, practical, affordable, and mistake-free.

"Our test cannot be fooled," said Dr. Moshe Fried, of Tel Aviv University, who himself was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, in a press release. "Eye movements tracked are involuntary, so they constitute a sound physiological marker for ADHD."

The research also demonstrated that methylphenidate (Ritalin) does work, he said. "It is certainly not a placebo, as some have suggested."  Testing showed that use of Ritalin "normalized the suppression of involuntary eye movements to the average level of the control group."

Other members of the research team were Dr. Anna Sterkin and Prof. Uri Polat of Tel Aviv University, Dr. Tamara Wygnanski-Jaffe, Dr. Eteri Tsitsiashvili, and Dr. Tamir Epstein of the Sheba Medical Center, and Dr. Yoram Bonneh of Haifa University.