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  • Youngest Kids in Kindergarten May Be Getting Misdiagnosed With ADHD: U.S. Study

    The study involved 407,000 elementary school children born between 2007 and 2009.
    by Rachel Perez .
Youngest Kids in Kindergarten May Be Getting Misdiagnosed With ADHD: U.S. Study
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Are kids in the United States being misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because of their age? That seems to be the strong suggestion of a study led by Harvard Medical School researchers. 

    The study involved 407,000 elementary school children born between 2007 and 2009. According to Reuters, the findings, published The New England Journal of Medicine in November 2018, "provide evidence that some children are being diagnosed with ADHD not because they have the condition, but because they are less mature than others in their class, who can be up to 11 months older."

    "When the cutoff for attending kindergarten was having a birth date before September 1, the odds of being labeled hyperactive were 34% higher for the youngest children (those born in August) than for the oldest children, those born the previous September."

    The lead study author Timothy Layton, Ph.D., assistant professor of health care policy in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, told Reuters, "For every week after the cut-off, they're more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD."

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    The researchers are suggesting the possibility that a number of those kids were misdiagnosed because "they happen to be relatively immature compared to their older classmates in the early years of elementary school," Layton told The Harvard Gazette. A typical behavior for a 6-year-old could seem odd or unusual in a class of mostly older children.

    Even when the age gap is only 11 or 12 months, it could already present significant behavioral differences. "As children grow older, small differences in age equalize and dissipate over time, but behaviorally speaking, the difference between a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old could be quite pronounced," added study senior study author Anupam Jena, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of health care policy in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.

    For example, a younger child might have a harder time sitting still and concentrating for long periods of time in class. Layton noted that the younger child's behavior could stand out amongst his peers who may be a year older.

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    In the Philippines, the beginning of the school year has not been officially moved to August or September, but the Department of Education (DepEd) imposes a similar age cut-off, which did not sit well with some parents.

    The DepEd Order No. 20 s. 2018 states that kindergarten students should be 5 years old by June 1 of every calendar year, and schools may consider accepting kids who will turn 5 years old by the end of August of the calendar year, provided they pass the Philippine Early Childhood Development (ECD) Checklist.

    More than age, however, let your child's behavioral skills be a factor when deciding when to send your child to a formal school. Is he ready for group learning? Dr. Joselyn Eusebio, a developmental pediatrician, describes a school ready child with the following characteristics or skills: he can recognize letters, number, and colors, and knows self-help skills such as eating, dressing up, or going to the potty with minimal supervision. (Know how school-ready your child is here.)

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    And once your child is in school, Dr. Jena's advice to parents is a good one to take: “If a doctor or teacher is considering a diagnosis of ADHD and the child is young for their grade, they might pause and say, let’s see how this child develops over the next 6 months or a year before we finalize the diagnosis and start to make recommendations for treatment.”

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