"Hyperactive..." Is this a clinical term, or just some clinical sounding excuse that lousy parents use to justify punishing / drugging their kids?
Hyperactivity is, in fact, a clinical term. It's pretty established science that some children have poorly-developed impulse control for their age. We can diagnose it clinically, but there have also been recent brain studies showing structural and functional differences between hyperactive and normally active children. When children's hyperactivity impedes their academic and social growth, it can have devastating long-term effects on them, in which case it is diagnosed as hyperactivity disorder. For some children in this group, medication can enable them to control their impulsiveness and enable them to find academic and social success. I have seen students whose lives were turned around almost overnight by such medication. These were students who had a desire to learn and to behave, but were impeded by their neurology from reaching their potential. It has nothing to do with character or parenting, and everything to do with brain development.
That said, I think that hyperactivity and attention deficit are probably overdiagnosed and stimulant medications are probably overprescribed. Some children diagnosed with hyperactivity could probably benefit from non-medical interventions. That doesn't mean that the disorder isn't real or is a fabricated excuse for lazy parenting. It just means that, as with antibiotics, doctors feel a tremendous amount of pressure to do something when presented with parents and children who are suffering.
So, as someone who was diagnosed as an adult, I agree that in certain demographics it may be overdiagnosed. White upper middle class boys in particular *probably* get diagnosed too often. I don't think this holds for girls at all - right now it's still diagnosed more often in boys than girls even though the research appears to indicate that the rates of this condition between the two genders is roughly equal. A citation for this, albeit one that is distressingly low in actual numbers:https://psychcentral.com/lib/adhd-and-gender/
With girls/women, there are some very specific second-generation reasons why this appears to be the case, chiefly that women appear to exhibit the inattentive form of ADHD whereas boys are more likely to have that "classic" form of hyperactivity that makes the kid disruptive in class, obnoxious, and hard to control. I don't think for a second that doctors and school counselors go into this thinking "ho ho ho, we are going to diagnose all the boys and ignore the girls IT WILL BE GREAT KEEP THE WOMENS DOWN 4EVA". Just... consider this scenario: you've got two students in your class, one boy, one girl, both of whom have ADHD. The girl is just kind of flighty, doesn't always pay attention to you, and doesn't participate in class discussions, but might still get good grades because she does her homework (of course, you as the teacher don't see how unbelievably hard it is for her to do said homework, the socialization and browbeating that her parents have to give her to make her "buckle down", etc. How could you see that?). Or maybe she doesn't get good grades at all. Maybe her grades oscillate wildly between things she shows an active interest in and things that she doesn't. Either way, you just figure that she's shy and, for lack of a better term, squirrelly. If you aren't well accustomed to how ADHD-I manifests itself and you've been teaching for a while, maybe you've even seen this "type" of girl before: she's probably just not smart enough to go to college but hey, at least she keeps this to herself.
That boy on the other hand, damn... you've had to move him around the classroom several times this year because wherever he is he just starts chatting to his classmates in the middle of the class when you're up at the whiteboard talking about something. His fellow classmates seem to be as annoyed by this as much as you are, and he even seems to be guilty/contrite when you catch him out, but he keeps doing it and it makes it very, very hard for you to keep your *own* concentration. If this boy is engaged in a topic, though, that's another matter, but even then he can be a lot obnoxious - you've had to tell him more than once that even if he knows the answers he must raise his hand and wait to be called on. Now at least he does that, even though he *still* does that "I KNOW I KNOW" thing. If you say something that's not, like, exactly right, the boy will speak up and correct you too, which, let's face it, is f'ing annoying. He may or may not be the class clown on top of all of this (although it's equally likely that, as noted, his classmates are as tired of his antics as you are).
Which of those two kids are you likely to tell the counselor about? The boy, right? Definitely we can all understand why an awful lot of teachers are going to seek out a counselor for the boy. The boy is making their class harder and if anything it's a pretty fantastic act of kindness for the teacher to schedule counseling for them instead of detention or to convince their parents that their kid might not be 'lazy' or 'annoying' but may actually have a treatable mental condition (by the way, I should point out here that the 'boy' examples come from my own childhood and by and large my teachers went the detention route and the 'complaining to my parents during PTA nights' routes instead of the 'um, let's get you over to the school counselor' route). The boy is just plain too loud to fall through the cracks (well, you'd think, anyway) while the girl suffers in silence, and the difference comes down to basically not a lot more than the particular form in which ADHD manifests itself in boys more often than girls coupled wih that shitty, shitty part of our society that encourages/demands that girls and women learn to suffer in silence rather than speak out.
(I do want to add that it's not a binary "boys get ADHD-H, girls get ADHD-I" situation, too. My dad almost certainly had the inattentive form of ADHD. When I was diagnosed over the winter I described the symptoms to my brothers and... how do I explain this... I have two brothers, one of whom I feel like is a younger, more personally successful version of me in many ways while the other is kind of everything that I am not - very tidy while I am super-messy, easy-going where I can get pretty short-tempered and dramatic, super organized while I almost prefer a kind of controlled chaos, and in school the kind of person about whom teachers said "he has to work for everything that he gets" (he's not dumb, by the way, not by a longshot). To my surprise, it was my complete-opposite brother who was like "wow, every single thing you just said describes me". (also also yes, several people in my family, Dad's side especially, have it - ADHD is extremely genetic) I think that girls who have ADHD-H tend to have it tamped down, and sometimes pretty harshly at that, by gender mores, but I'm sure examples exist there as well.)
It's also not diagnosed amongst minorities as much as it is white kids, and it's not diagnosed as much amongst lower-class kids as it is upper middle class or higher ones. Getting treatment for one's mental health issues, even such seemingly inconsequential ones as ADHD, is 100% a privilege and it's one that an *awful* lot of people ignore. Compounding this in boys especially (again, I don't want to downplay the plight of girls here; it's just that I 'get' and understand the boys' side a bit better) is the fact that a *lot* of the time Oppositional Defiance Disorder and/or Conduct Disorder come along for the ride with ADHD. I think that the ODD/CD stuff happens more as a coping mechanism for the ADHD than them being some kind of "character flaw" the way that personality disorders are generally classified but even so, if you're poor and you have ADHD, there is a really, really good chance that the first time your impulsiveness and lack of ability to concentrate gets you into trouble is with the law rather than in front of a passionate and well-meaning teacher. It's been estimated (studies cited in this article) that between 21% and 45% of all adults in jail are either currently diagnosable with ADHD or, based on their history, would have been diagnosable as a child by the (pretty damn rigorous, generally speaking) standards of the DSM-IV and DSM-V. These numbers seem to bear out across cultures - Iceland, for instance, ran a study that showed that 50% of their inmates had the cluster of symptoms, and if you only look at violent crime the difference in incarceration becomes even more stark.http://adultaddstrengths.com/2011/01/12/adhd-and-crime-ignore-now-jail-later-15-clinical-studies/
Anyway, all of this is I guess a lead-in to say that sure, OK, white upper class boys might just be overdiagnosed. I'm willing to accept that premise, at least for now. I think that a *far* bigger issue is that basically everybody else is extremely underdiagnosed. When white upper middle class boys get the ADHD diagnosis as well as the drugs to mitigate it (and by the way, they don't work on everyone but god *damn* do they work on some people - I've already written a novel on this here but if you want to read more about my own experiences with the diagnosis and the medication, see my thread on the subject), girls get "ah honey, you're just not all that bright. Maybe school isn't your thing" or "no daughter of mine is dumb. No, you're lazy. Work harder". And poor boys, especially minorities, get "get out of my classroom, you will never amount to anything" and/or "jail". The problem to me isn't that one little group of special snowflakes or whatever that *do* get this help, it's that it's all but closed off to everyone who isn't in this group. Things are changing but I don't think that further stigmatizing real mental illness (and yep, we may not know exactly what ADHD is just yet but we've studied ADHD brains and they do in fact look different from "normal" ones) helps us to reach those people who really and truly do need our help.