Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is typically diagnosed during childhood, but an increasing number of children have recently been diagnosed with the disorder at an alarmingly early age. Currently, one third of all ADHD diagnoses are made before the age of 6. Though the causes of ADHD are still unknown, children with ADHD are usually unable to hold their attention, or control activity levels and impulses. But in very young children, who are often more playful and uninhibited than their older peers, are these merely symptoms of immaturity?
Researchers from Taiwan sought to determine this by studying ADHD diagnosis rates in the education system. In a study using 15 years’ worth of electronic records regarding 378,881 children aged 4 to 17, the researchers were able to evaluate the prevalence of ADHD diagnoses in students who were born either before or after the annual cut-off birthdate for school enrollment.
In Taiwan, the annual cut-off birthdate to enroll in the education system is Aug. 31, meaning if a student is born after that date, they must wait an additional year to begin schooling. Though this date varies in the United States, it usually falls close to the beginning of September.
Compared to students who were born before Aug. 31, children who waited an additional year to begin schooling were much less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Additionally, the researchers’ analyses showed that only preschool or elementary school-aged children who were born before Aug. 31, and not the older children, had an increased risk of ADHD diagnosis. "Our findings emphasize the importance of considering the age of a child within a grade when diagnosing ADHD and prescribing medication to treat ADHD,” said study author Dr. Mu-Hong Chen.
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