A recent study conducted by the University of British Columbia indicates that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is most frequently over-diagnosed among the youngest children in a given elementary or middle school grade.
The conclusions drawn from the study suggest that many of the children were falsely diagnosed with having ADHD diagnosis when they were actually simply the younger and more immature, in relation to the other individuals in their grade.
The findings of the clinical study also demonstrates just how quickly children actually mature, from a mental perspective, during the early years of their lives. In all, the results of this study suggest that literally millions of children may be being incorrectly diagnosed with a condition, ADHD, that they simply do not have.
39% More Likely to Receive ADHD Diagnosis, Study Concludes
During the study, Richard Morrow and a team of other researchers examined the ADHD diagnoses of almost 1 million children living in British Columbia. The public school system in British Columbia imposes a December 31st cut-off date on all children entering school in a given year. This means that children born in December are youngest of their respective grades, while kids born in January represent the oldest.
The results of the study were compiled from 1997 through 2008, and all of the children involved in the study were aged 6 to 12 years at the time of their inclusion over the 11-year period.
Among boys born in December, roughly 7.4% had been diagnosed with ADHD. Among boys born in January, roughly 5.7% had received the same diagnosis.
Among girls born in December, approximately 2.7% had been diagnosed with ADHD. Among girls born in January, roughly 1.6% were diagnosed with ADHD.
Overall, the researchers determined that children born in December (the youngest of their class) were 39% more likely to have an ADHD diagnosis. They were also 48% more likely to receive ADHD medication, which could be harmful for children who don’t actually have ADHD.
ADHD Over Diagnosed Instances Increasing Overall
In order for a doctor to diagnose a child with ADHD, he or she simply observes the child’s behavior. This behavioral assessment is performed to the exclusion of any biological or chemical tests, and one doctor’s opinion will not necessary mirror the opinion of another. Dr. Morrow and his team believe that many children who are diagnosed with ADHD are simply immature and don’t have an actual medical condition.
In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that approximately 9.5% of children in the U.S were diagnosed with ADHD. According to the British Columbia researchers, ADHD has been diagnosed more frequently with each passing year of their study. The CDC at least partially confirms this, stating that ADHD has been diagnosed at least 5% more frequently each year from 2003 through 2007.
The findings of the University of British Columbia study echoed the findings of a similar study conducted by North Carolina State University in 2010. In that study, Melinda Morrill and other researchers discovered that the youngest children in a given grade were 25% more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than the oldest children in the same grade.
The Danger of an Incorrect ADHD Diagnosis
According to the UBC researchers, medication designed to treat ADHD in children can have a variety of negative side effects, including slower growth rates, cardiovascular problems and sleep disruption. A conflicting study performed in 2011, however, suggested that ADHD medications were not linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular events.
Many experts worry about the social and behavioral implications of an incorrect ADHD diagnosis. The child may feel unnecessarily “different” from their peers, while parents and teachers may treat the child differently as well. This is unfortunate since the child may have been incorrectly diagnosed simply due to immaturity relative to older children in the same grade level.
As a conclusion to their study, the researchers suggested that doctors exercise additional caution when determining whether a child has ADHD. They said that more accurate diagnoses may be made by observing the child’s behavior out of school, as well as when they’re in class.
ADHD Over Diagnosed: The Bottom Line
A recent study indicates that children who are among the youngest members of their school grade are far more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than children who are among the oldest members of the same grade.
The researchers believe that many children are incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD because they’re immature for their grade level, even when their behaviors and attitudes are appropriate to their age.
The full text of the University of British Columbia ADHD study can be found in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.