A new study suggests that younger children are more often misdiagnosed with ADHD

New research from London suggests that children who have later birthdays than their peers are more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, and in many cases, this is a misdiagnosis.

Diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) are on the rise and have been for a while. More and more school-age children are receiving the ADHD diagnoses as teachers and parents battle what is believed to be atypical impulsivity, executive functioning and ability to focus.

Related: Childhood Sleep Disturbances May Be Misdiagnosed as ADHD

But now, a research team from the University College in London believes that after the review of 17 studies that looked at over 14 million children in 12 countries, age may play a big role in the diagnosis of ADHD in a child and that they may be misdiagnosed and possibly mistreated with medication. They found children who were youngest in the classroom (and most likely those closest to 'cutoff' dates based on birthday for entering school) were more likely to receive ADHD diagnoses than their peers.

Dr. Joanna Moncrieff led the team and believes the data from the reviewed studies suggest that parents and teachers may be looking for classroom behaviors that are not necessarily age-appropriate for children, and that typical immaturity may be misdiagnosed as ADHD or a related difference. She believes that being able to appropriately differentiate between immaturity due to age and actual ADHD is important as many children may be labeled inaccurately or, worse, medicated with no need.


The team suggests that in situations where children are being expected to perform in ways that are not developmentally appropriate, the behaviors that may be misdiagnosed as ADHD may simply be the need for a child to mature and developmentally grow. In classmates, they found a big difference between children who are born in November/December when compared to their peers who were a bit older when entering school as they were born in January/February, and this was more pronounced in early childhood.

This new review backs up what a study from Stanford University found--that in Denmark, delaying kindergarten by a year reduced the rates of hyperactivity and inattention in children by 73%, based on diagnoses rates at eleven years old. The education system of Finland must find this to be true as well, being one of the highest-performing systems of education in the entire world, but having the kindergarten starting age be seven-years-old.

Dr. Martin Whitely co-authored the study and said that when compared to other countries, Finland also has lower rates of ADHD diagnoses. As well, a 2015 study claimed that insisting children read before they were developmentally ready to could easily lead to other school/development problems as age-appropriate neural functions were lost in the process to read before one was ready.

And, as a teacher, I often saw children with ADHD and found that early intervention made a tremendous difference in the success of children who truly had ADHD--in school and in their everyday life. Strategies for compensation and accommodation can make all the difference, and true early diagnosis can take so much stress off of children and parents.

Related: Should Your Child Read In Kindergarten?

But, this study reinforces what I believe more and more parents are already finding to be more and more true...that it may not be ADHD that their child has, but a simple need to develop more, and to have classroom expectations be more age-appropriate. This is the reason so many parents consider delaying kindergarten a year if their child has a 'late birthday,' and the reason I tell every parent who asks my opinion on delaying kindergarten that they most likely will never regret it. The abilities of a six-year-old compared to a five-year-old in kindergarten are quite varying, and can really mean the difference between successful school experiences or defeating ones.

When we recognize that children develop at different rates, and that age-appropriate expectations play a major role in the success of children, my guess is we too might see fewer ADHD diagnoses, and far less stress and anxiety over performing well in school when one is barely seven-years-old.

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