Francisco Steib, 10, discusses his school day with his parents, Kurt and Maggi, over dinner.

Francisco Steib, 10, discusses his school day with his parents, Kurt and Maggi, over dinner. (Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)

Although the percentages in the study are significant statistically, the risk in the real world is actually quite small, Dulcan added.

"What I worry about is that parents who have had birth complications will worry more than they need to about their kids," she said.

Still, concern over ADHD is almost certainly increasing. The second Kaiser Permanente study, which examined health records of nearly 850,000 children between 5 and 11, revealed that the diagnosis rates for ADHD rose from 2.5 percent in 2001 to 3.1 percent in 2010. That's a relative increase of 24 percent.

Although white children had the highest ending diagnosis rate at 5.6 percent, it was a relative increase of only 20 percent, up from 4.7 percent in 2001, according to the study, which was published last month in JAMA Pediatrics journal.

Black children saw the greatest jump in diagnosis with a 70 percent relative increase, according to the study. The rates of black children diagnosed rose from 2.6 percent in 2001 to 4.1 percent in 2010, with the rates for black girls in particular increasing a whopping 90 percent.

The rates of diagnosis for Hispanic children showed a relative increase of 60 percent, jumping from 1.7 percent in 2001 to 2.5 percent in 2010, according to the study.

The study also showed that boys were three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. Considering that there used to be nine boys diagnosed for every girl, this shows a considerable decline in the ADHD gender gap, Stein said.

Because girls are less likely to be hyperactive or labeled as "disrupters" in school, traditionally they have been less likely to be diagnosed, Stein said.

"I think it's a good thing that more girls are being identified and more African-American girls in particular," he said.

Still, parents should not be concerned that the rise in the diagnosis rates suggests an "epidemic" of the disorder, he said.

According to the study, 4.9 percent of the children had a diagnosis of ADHD. That's no where near the high end of most other studies, which suggest 4 to 12 percent of children have ADHD, Stein said.

However, the researchers set a very stringent diagnostic criteria that could explain why the ADHD rates were lower in this study than others. For the Kaiser Permanente study, a child had to either be diagnosed on at least two occasions by specialized physicians or diagnosed once and receive at least two refills of ADHD medication.

Dulcan questioned certain aspects of the study. Although Kaiser Permanente noted the study could be generalized to other populations because it examined a large and ethnically diverse group, Dulcan said the fact that everyone in the study had access to top-of-the-line health care meant it could not be generalized to the American public.

Still, previous studies confirm that the diagnosis rate of ADHD is and has been on the rise in recent years, experts said. The jump in ADHD diagnosis is likely due, at least partially, to an increased awareness about the disorder.

Certainly there is more awareness about ADHD on the part of pediatricians, Stein said. Patients used to have to go to psychiatric facilities for diagnosis and treatment, but now it's just as common to seek help from primary care physicians.

More adults are also being diagnosed, said Dale Davison, co-coordinator of the Chicago North Shore CHADD, an ADHD support group, and a professional ADHD/executive functioning coach. As they seek help for their children with ADHD, many adults are realizing they also suffer from the disorder.

"There are lots of people who are adults now who have had ADHD their whole lives, but they never realized it," Davison said.

Maggi Steib was doing research on ADHD to learn more about her son's situation when she recognized many of the symptoms in herself, she said. She was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder a few years ago.

Also having the disorder gives her a little more empathy, but it doesn't mean her son's condition isn't a major challenge, Steib said.

Possibly the most difficult task is grasping what ADHD is and making sure to cut her son some slack, she said. In those moments when she is calling his name over and over again without a response, it's hard not to be hurt and frustrated.

"I think one of the biggest challenges is just reminding ourselves that he's not acting out," Steib said.

Steib said she's gradually picked up tips that seem to help. For instance, she now knows she's not going to get Francisco's attention by calling to him from another room. She has to go to his location and make eye contact.

Impulsivity is another big issue, Steib said. For example, Francisco was playing tag with another child and that child accidentally struck him. Immediately, Francisco turned and hit him back without thinking about it. Afterward, he felt horrible.

ADHD medication does a good job helping to stave off some of that impulsivity, Steib said. It gives her the chance to work with her son and teach him coping strategies.

Still, sometimes parents need more help, Steib said. That's why she started the Chicago ADHD Parent Support Group in December.

"I was just looking for support as a parent," she said.

Turnout has been amazing, she said. Fifty people have joined the group online and about 30 have shown up at each monthly meeting.

She said it is encouraging to hear other people's stories and see a room full of people nodding their heads.

"It's so easy to feel isolated as a parent and feel like you're dealing with whatever you're dealing with on your own," Steib said. But "they know exactly what you're going through."