According to the Saudi ADHD society, around 1.6 to 2.5 million children in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a psychiatric neurodevelopment disorder. In contrast, there are only 60 specialist doctors working to deal with the cases.
ADHD, which is classified as a learning disability, mostly develops during childhood. Children suffering from the disease find it difficult to pay attention, follow directions and regulate their actions. The disorder does not affect general intelligence, but students with ADHD need proper guidance to distinguish words, letters and symbols.
A study published in 2011 showed around 30 percent of children in KSA were incapable of finishing their high school education, a higher rate compared to other countries worldwide. The high percentage reflected a lack of facilities for children with ADHD and the high number of crimes committed by individuals suffering from ADHD (about 21 percent last year), writes Khalid Tashkandi of the Saudi Gazette.
Schoolteachers within the country also lack the training to identify children with the disorder, leading to them being treated the same as those with poor academic performances. The paucity of educational, social and medical support prevents these children from reaching their full potential.
Head of Special Needs Department in the Ministry of Higher Education Fawziyah Akhdar acknowledged that special tailored services and facilities were required for children with learning disabilities.
"Children with learning disabilities are often undiagnosed. Even when they are diagnosed, there are no specialized schools and centers to address their cases."
The Saudi Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Society (AFTA) arranged a seven-day training program last year in conjunction with the Health Ministry to aid 120 nationwide doctors qualify to treat cases of ADHD. The program, which consisted of a six-hour workshop on diagnosis, treatment and how to raise awareness about the disorder, primarily focused on training young physicians.
Diagnosis of the disease however, has not just increased in Saudi Arabia. A paper published in the journal Social Science and Medicine revealed a rise in ADHD diagnosis and treatment rates across United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Brazil. Studies in the U.S show about 11 percent of children and 4.4 percent of adults having a diagnosis of the disorder, writes Carolyn Gregoire of The Huffington Post.
The increase in diagnosis and treatment of the disorder has also raised concerns in the medical community regarding overdiagnosing and overmedicating children for ADHD. Medical experts blame the promotional campaigns of pharmaceutical companies and an increased pressure on students to perform well in studies. Long term effects of the medication include alteration of brain chemistry and overdependence.
Several countries have also taken a stand against the wrongful prescription of the drug. Officials in the U.K have discouraged doctors from prescribing ADHD drugs without giving the child the benefits of behavioral therapy. Israel's Ministry of Health has also condemned the prescription of stimulants to children without ADHD as a crime punishable by law, writes Julie S of HNGN.
Researchers also claim that the disorder is not as big a threat as conceived in the past and provides some benefits to the afflicted. Individuals with ADHD have higher perception, can deal with emotional outbursts better and are better at multitasking; a skill which is highly valuable in modern day jobs.