Parents worried about their child falling behind academically because they are born later in the school year, are being warned their child is also more likely to be wrongly diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
A new study has found thousands of children are mistakenly being labelled as having the condition because they are younger than their peers and therefore more immature or prone to forgetfulness and being easily distracted.
The global research reviewed 17 studies involving more than 14 million children that looked at links between a child’s age relative to their classmates and their chance of having ADHD.
The team, from University College London, found it was more likely for the youngest children to be diganosed with the condition, and treated with medication.
The findings indicate that pupils who are developing within a normal range are being labelled with the condition because they are more likely to be causing disruption in the classroom. Although teachers don’t diagnose it, they are also often the first to suggest a child may have ADHD.
Dr Joanna Moncrieff, a psychiatrist at UCL, said: “The diagnosis of ADHD is sometimes applied to behaviour that is disruptive in the classroom because the child is young for their year.” Moncrieff said that the way the school system is established means it is inflexible and can’t properly take age into account.
The research found the same results across countries with high rates of ADHD (like the USA, Canada and Iceland) and in places where ADHD diagnosis are much lower, like Finland and Sweden. On average it affects just over 300,000 children in the UK – or around one child in every classroom.
Symptoms of ADHD tend to be noticed at an early age and may become more noticeable when a child’s circumstances change, such as when they start school. Most cases are diagnosed when children are between 6 and 12.
People with ADHD may also have additional problems, such as sleep and anxiety disorders, says the NHS.
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but the condition has been shown to run in families. ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it’s more common in people with learning difficulties.
How do I know if my child has ADHD?
“Children who display signs of ADHD will have a number of indicators as they are growing up,” explains Dr Tony Lloyd, CEO of the ADHD Foundation.
“Frustration at not being able to remember what they are learning in school and in life; they can be quick to anger and display an overly impulsive behaviour.
“There are also children who retreat into day dreaming and have poor concentration - homework can be a major cause for distress at home.”