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Children Young for Their Grade More Likely to be Diagnosed with ADHD

Corbis Photography for Veer

According to a study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a younger child’s immaturity may lead to an inaccurate ADHD diagnosis, since they are compared to their older, more mature peers.

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ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children and is most often treated with medication.  The medication to treat ADHD can have side effects such as sleep disruption, increased risk of cardiovascular events and slower growth rates, which makes an unnecessary diagnosis potentially dangerous.

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The study, conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia over the course of 11 years, followed more than 900,000 children in British Columbia who were 6–12 years of age. The younger children were born near the December 31st cut off date for entry into British Columbia schools and researchers found those children, compared to their January-born peers, were 39% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and 48% more likely to be treated with medication. Although boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, “girls born in December and typically younger within their grade were 70% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls born in January.”

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These two groups of students are almost one year apart, though they’re in the same grade and required to meet the same standards.  The apparent difference in maturity is called the “relative-age effect” by researchers and it has a notable effect on academic and athletic performance. Jane Garland of the University of British Columbia said, “We need to ask ourselves what needs to change. For example, attention to relative age of children for their grade and more emphasis on behavior outside the school setting.”

 Do the findings of this study surprise you? Do you have a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD?