Children who are young for their school year are significantly more likely than their older classmates to be diagnosed with ADHD, according to Canadian research.
The research from the University of British Columbia (UBC), found that younger children were inappropriately labelled with and treated for behavioural problems. The results suggested that, in Canada, some children were put on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder purely because they were not as mature as older children in their class.
In Canada the cut-off age for each school year is 31 December, with the youngest children born at the end of the calendar year and the eldest born in January. The study found that girls born in December were 70% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls born in January, while boys born in December were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than those born in January.
Children within the same school year can be almost one year apart in age, but only a handful of studies have attempted to examine the relationship between age and diagnosis of ADHD.
Dr Jane Garland, clinical professor of psychiatry at UBC said that symptoms of ADHD include fidgeting, not seeming to listen and being easily distracted – something all children do to some degree, relative to their stage of development. When making a diagnosis, Dr Garland explained, “We need to think really carefully: how old is this child?”
The study included 927,943 children who were aged 6 to 12 at any point from 1997 to 2008.