ADHD Diagnosis More Likely For Younger Children In Classroom: Report
Researchers have warned of the dangers of labelling after an international study found the youngest children in classrooms are more likely to be 'diagnosed' with ADHD.
The study led by researchers at Western Australia's Curtin University reviewed 17 studies covering more than 14 million children to examine the relationship between a child's age relative to their classmates and their chances of being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The series of studies from the U.S., Spain, Canada, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and Australia found an ADHD diagnosis, and medication, was more common for the youngest children in a classroom.
While there were no biological markers or physical tests for ADHD, lead researcher Dr Martin Whitley said the diagnosis was largely based on reports of children's behaviour from their teachers.
“It appears that across the globe some teachers are mistaking the immaturity of the youngest children in their class for ADHD. Although teachers don’t diagnose it, they are often the first to suggest a child may have ADHD,” Whitely said.
“Our research shows that the ADHD late-birthday effect occurs in both high prescribing countries, like the USA, Canada and Iceland, and in countries where ADHD is far less common, like Finland, Sweden and Taiwan. Our findings challenge the notion that misdiagnosis only happens in countries where there is a high rate of prescriptions for ADHD.”
Co-author and child and adolescent psychiatrist Professor Jon Jureidini from the University of Adelaide warned of the dangers of labeling and said the study highlighted the importance of teachers, parents and medical professionals to be aware of the potential impact of young age.
Jureidini said it was important to give the youngest child in class the extra time they may need to mature.
“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,” Jureidini said.
“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.”
The study authored by a team of international researchers has been published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
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