New studies: Younger (immature) kids misdiagnosed with ADHD

Two new studies show that children who are the youngest in their grades are often misdiagnosed with ADHD when they are really just less mature than their peers.

A North Carolina State report found that kids born right before the school cutoff date were 25 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than children born right after the cutoff date. The NC State study looked at kids 7 to 17.

The children who were born before the cutoff were able to start school and were the youngest in their class. The peers born after the cutoff were delayed a year and were the oldest in class and therefore more mature.

The Michigan State University study,  which looked just at kindergartners, found that 60 percent of the younger students in kindergarten were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD!

From ABC News.com:

“About 4.5 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the studies.”

“Michigan State University researchers found that as many as 1 million U.S. school kids may have been misdiagnosed with ADHD because they are the youngest and — therefore, typically most immature — students in class.”

“Misdiagnosing children can have long-lasting effects, says assistant professor of economics Todd Elder, author of the Michigan State study. In fifth and eighth grade, the youngest kids in a class were more than twice as likely to use Ritalin, a stimulant commonly prescribed for ADHD, compared with the oldest students, his study says.”

From the NC State press relase:

“The question we asked was whether children who are relatively young compared to their classroom peers were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD,” says Dr. Melinda Morrill, a research assistant professor of economics at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the study. “To answer the question, we looked at children born shortly before the kindergarten eligibility cutoff date and children born shortly after the cutoff date and compared the rates of ADHD diagnosis and treatment.”

The researchers figured that children born just a few days apart should have the same underlying risk of having ADHD. So finding a significant difference in diagnosis rates between children born only a few days apart is strong evidence of medically inappropriate diagnosis.

Morrill explains that the study shows that children born just after the kindergarten cutoff date were 25 percent less likely to be diagnosed as having ADHD than children born just before the cutoff date. “This indicates that there are children who are diagnosed (or not) because of something other than underlying biological or medical reasons.

“We believe that younger children may be mistakenly diagnosed as having ADHD, when in fact they are simply less mature,” Morrill says.

From ABC News.com:

“Many ADHD diagnoses may be driven by teachers’ perceptions of poor behavior among the youngest children in a kindergarten classroom,” Elder said.

“But these ’symptoms’ may merely reflect emotional or intellectual immaturity among the youngest students.”

( I just really liked those quotes!)

So what do you think of these two studies? Can you believe that 10 to 12 months would make that big of difference in maturity and diagnosis rates?

All our teacher friends out there, are you guys aware of spring vs fall birthdays? Do you take that into consideration as you’re evaluating behavior and ability? Have you ever heard people suggest lets give a year to mature and see what happens?

Do you think your child has been misdiagnosed or there has been a rush to judgment on your child?

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