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Young children are often misdiagnosed with ADHD by being compared with older kids

Posted October 21, 2018

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, better known as simply ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental mental disorder. Children with ADHD typically find it more difficult to focus, and to complete their schoolwork. There are many causes for ADHD, including genes, poor choices during pregnancy or even problems in the family. Now scientists from UCL found that the youngest in their classroom are more likely to be diagnosed ADHD.

Younger children are more playful and a bit more immature – they don’t focus as easily and thus are often diagnosed with ADHD. Image credit: Alex Proimos via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Scientists reviewed seventeen studies covering more than 14 million children from various countries. They found that youngest children in a classroom are diagnosed with ADHD and medicated for it more often than others. There are two ways to look at it. For one, environmental factors can be causing ADHD in young children – pressure to meet expectations, being the youngest among bigger kids and other issues may be contributing to ADHD. However, scientists say that these findings could simply mean that ADHD is misdiagnosed just because younger children find it less easy to focus than their older classmates.

ADHD is largely diagnosed from teacher reports of a child’s behaviour. In fact, there are no biological markers or physical tests for ADHD. Teachers are often the first ones to notice that the child might have ADHD due to his immature behaviour relative to his classmates. This is likely the cause why ADHD is more often diagnosed to youngest children in classes. This phenomenon can be observed in US, Canada, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Taiwan and other countries. However, scientists didn’t notice anything similar in Denmark, but here children with late birthdays are usually held back for another year.

Parents should have this in mind – younger children will find it hard to focus at school. They can become very good students, but at first they will exhibit some signs similar to symptoms of ADHD. Teachers should know this too and medicating for this condition should be prescribed more carefully. Professor Jon Jureidini, co-author of the study, said: “Mistaking perfectly normal age-related immaturity for ADHD is just one of many problems with the label. Children who are sleep deprived, bullied, have suffered abuse or have a host of other problems, often get labelled ADHD. Not only does this result in them getting potentially harmful drugs they don’t need, but their real problems don’t get identified and addressed”.

Diagnosis of issues like ADHD has to be improved. Therapy should be the first weapon against it and not medication. Finally, those who think their children may have it, should seek other opinions and see if their judgement is not motivated by comparing their child with an older one.


Source: UCL

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