Being the Youngest in Class Makes a Child More Likely to be Diagnosed with ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a common disorder among children, with estimates suggesting 11-12 percent of those aged between 4 and 17 years in the U.S. having it. Findings from a new research suggest some of these children may have been misdiagnosed.

ADHD Symptoms

ADHD Symptoms

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that children who are youngest in a class at school are more likely to be said to have ADHD, compared to their older peers. According to the researchers, certain behaviors that they exhibit due to their younger age are mistaken as signs of the disorder.

Children who have ADHD tend to be fidgety and are usually forgetful. They also get distracted very easily and teachers may often catch them talking frequently while a lesson is on.

The chronic behavioral disorder is typically suspected when symptoms such as these are seen in children.

But some younger children may exhibit similar behaviors without having ADHD. For instance, being fidgety may well be the result of a younger age than anything else.

In the current research, scientists from Harvard University found that the disorder was diagnosed more in younger children, possibly because of the observed behaviors.

Age difference means a lot

The researchers investigated the impact the kindergarten enrollment process in many schools in the U.S. can have on the rate of diagnosis.

These schools work with a Sept. 1 cutoff, which means those born in September will have to wait until the following year to enroll. But those born in August are qualified to enroll.

This arrangement creates a situation whereby you have a 5-year-old child and another who is almost six years enrolling at the same time. The age difference of about a year can mean a lot.

The Harvard University scientists say this difference is enough to make the youngest children – those born in August – to be about 35 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the chronic disorder.

They made use of data on insurance claims relating to more than 400,000 children to get to this conclusion. The subjects were categorized according to their months of birth.

“You could certainly imagine a scenario in which two kids who are in a class who are different in age by almost a year could be viewed differently by a teacher, or school personnel who’s evaluating them,” says study co-author Dr. Anupam Jena. “A year of age difference in a 5-year-old or a 6-year-old is huge.”

It was found in the study, which focused on children between the ages 4 and 7, that 0.8 percent of those born in August were diagnosed with ADHD. The rate was 0.6 percent among older children.

The scientists did not observe any health differences in the youngest children, compared to their older colleagues. They also didn’t find differences in diagnosis rate among school children in states without a Sept. 1 enrollment cutoff.

Need for improvement in diagnosis

Findings from this study suggest that more caution need to be exercised when trying to diagnose ADHD in a child. This can prevent such from being made to take medications they do not need, at least not yet.

Experts mostly believe that youngest children may be more likely to be diagnosed with the condition. However, Jeffrey Newcorn, a psychiatrist and pediatrician at Mount Sinai Medical Center, told NPR that this may also be nothing more than an early diagnosis.

Jena talked about the possibility of there being misdiagnoses among the youngest children. He said this probably happened like 1 in every 4 diagnoses.

The Harvard University study isn’t the first to suggest youngest children in a class were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. As recent as few weeks before it was published, a global study that appeared in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry had reported findings that were somewhat similar.

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