Younger Kids More Likely To Be Diagnosed With ADHD


Think your 4-year-old is ready for kindergarten?

There are a lot of considerations that go into deciding whether to send a younger child to kindergarten or hold off a year. Add concern about a possible ADHD misdiagnosis to your list. The youngest kids in a classroom are the most likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, two new studies found. The study suggests that for these kids, normal immaturity may be misdiagnosed as ADHD because their behavior is out of sync with their peers. According to the studies, done in British Columbia, kids are vastly more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD is their birthdays are in the month before the age cut off than if they’re in the month after. That is, being the oldest kid in class makes you less likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis, and being the youngest ups your chances. Eureka reports:

Researchers found that children were 39% more likely to be diagnosed and 48% more likely to be treated with medication for ADHD if born in December compared to January. Due to the Dec. 31 cut-off birth date for entry into school in British Columbia, children born in December would typically be almost a year younger than their classmates born in January.

It’s easy to see the logic there. Kids grow and change a lot over a year. My seven-year-old daughter is far more mature, able to sit still and capable of taking direction than she was when she was six. Having a peer in the classroom who is a full year younger, the younger child is almost certain to seem hyperactive next to her older classmates.

But ADHD is more than restlessness. It’s a collection of symptoms that includes irritability, distractability, attention-seeking behaviors and other issues that disrupt learning. Are good doctors really confusing this with normal age-related immaturity on a regular basis?

That’s a scary thought, especially since the treatment for ADHD commonly involves prescription medications that can have serious side effects for children. Those medications can be a lifesaver for kids and parents coping with ADHD, but they’re not something to be taken lightly.

Plenty of younger kids don’t get saddled with a misdiagnosis of ADHD, of course. But if your kid is on the young end of his cohort and prone to acting out a bit, you may want to do some careful research before accepting an ADHD diagnosis for your child. He might have a real neurological problem, or he might just be younger than his peers. This is a disturbing thought for those of us who spend our time trying to convince people that ADHD is real, common and treatable, but it’s what this study suggests.

Photo: jmurawski