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Could There Be a New Attention Disorder to Worry About?

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Move over, ADHD; there's a new attention disorder on the block. Its name? Sluggish cognitive tempo. And its characteristics are said to include "lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing," according to the New York Times. Some experts even estimate it to be present in somewhere around 2 million kids. But one thing's for sure: All the talk of it lately has been sparking a bit of a debate within the medical community.

With attention deficit disorder diagnoses steadily rising over the years, it's clear that this new disorder will only balloon that number even further. But how to treat it? As researchers continue to investigate, some say it could be treated simply, by prescribing already established ADHD medications. But others are still skeptical it's even a legitimate disorder to begin with. Take Dr. Keith McBurnett, a member of the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, which recently devoted 136 pages of its January issue to the illness. According to McBurnett, there isn't even any real consensus yet on the disorder's true symptoms to back it up with science. He also worries that promoting the concept of the disorder before it has truly been defined and identified will only lead to more unnecessary diagnoses.

"We're seeing a fad in evolution: Just as ADHD has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another," says Dr. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University. As he told the Times, "This is a public health experiment on millions of kids."

While the concept of sluggish cognitive tempo (otherwise known as SCT) has actually been studied for decades, it's never actually been fully recognized by any official journals or medical boards, so it's clear much more research is still needed.

"These children are not the ones giving adults much trouble, so they're easy to miss," McBurnett explains further. "They're the daydreamy ones, the ones with work that's not turned in, leaving names off papers or skipping questions ... things like that, that impinge on grades or performance. So anything we can do to understand what's going on with these kids is a good thing."

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