A number of recent headlines indicated that children with ADHD might simply be immature. Two such articles included, Children diagnosed with ADHD ‘may simply be immature for their class and ADHD is vastly over-diagnosed and many children are just immature, says scientists. While these headlines might have produced more clicks, the headlines don’t tell the whole story. The authors of the study quoted never indicated that children with ADHD are immature.
The study, which was completed in Taiwan, looked at the birth months of preschool and school age children, as well as the rate of ADHD diagnoses. In particular, the study compared students who were the youngest in the class, (with a birth date shortly before the cutoff date) with the students who were the oldest.
What they found is that the youngest students in the class were more apt to be diagnosed and treated for ADHD. They also found that the youngest students did not perform as well academically as students who, by virtue of being born a month past the cutoff date, were almost a full year older.
As the parent of two “summer babies,” it makes sense that children born shortly before the cutoff date are less mature and might struggle at times to keep up. By simple math, they had almost a year less of time to prepare for school, for maturity, and to learn. This is especially true in the younger grades. Students born in September had 11 more months at home to learn the alphabet, simple math, colors, and shapes - more than my daughter did, who was born in August just 2 weeks before the cutoff date. According to the study, these children because of their relative age, would be more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. The researchers did not link immaturity. Instead, they recommended that this age gap be taken into consideration when assessing for ADHD.
Based on the conclusion of the researchers, “findings emphasize the importance of considering the age of a child within a grade when diagnosing ADHD and prescribing medication to treat ADHD.” It would seem that the authors are requesting caution when diagnosing and medicating children who are younger.
It is important to determine if a child’s struggles are due to ADHD, a neurobiological condition, or a need for additional time. This result is backed up by the finding that the differences in birth month don’t play a role in adolescents and teens diagnosed with ADHD.
ADHD affects millions of children. It causes symptoms that can interfere with the ability to complete school work, stay seated and pay attention. It usually appears before the age of five but is often not diagnosed until school age because that is when children must conform to sitting still and focusing for longer periods of time. The headlines, unfortunately, sound like ADHD is synonymous with immaturity and “vastly over-diagnosed.”
These types of articles pour fuel on the fire and give proponents of the “ADHD is not a real disorder” myth, untrue or misguided statements to prove their point. For many parents who live with the reality of ADHD every day, this causes more harm. While it is true that more caution can be used to screen younger children for ADHD, it is not beneficial to create headlines declaring ADHD is often misdiagnosed
As a parent, especially of a summer baby, you can speak up. Make sure assessments take into account your child’s birth month. When comparisons are made to behaviors of children of the same age, make sure your child’s age, not grade level, is used. An accurate diagnosis is essential to making sure your child receives the best care possible - be it treatment for ADHD or extra time to allow your child to catch up in maturity to their classmates. In other words, if your child has ADHD, you want to make sure it is diagnosed and addressed; if your child is immature, you want to take steps to help him or her cope with school.
See more helpful articles on diagnosing ADHD in children:
Influence of Relative Age on Diagnosis and Treatment of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Taiwanese Children: The Journal of Pediatrics
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on twitter @eileenmbaileyand on Facebook at eileenmbailey.