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Youngest Children in Class More Likely to be Diagnosed with ADHD: Study

Update Date: Nov 20, 2012 05:54 AM EST

A new study suggests that the youngest children in a class are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. The study confirms the findings of previous studies which have produced similar results.

The findings of the study from Iceland only suggest, and do not prove, that some children are diagnosed with ADHD if they are less mature than their classmates.

"Educators and health-care providers should take children's ages in relation to their [classmates] into account when evaluating academic performance and other criteria for ADHD diagnosis," said study author Helga Zoega, a postdoctoral fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, according to Health Day.

"Parents can use these findings to help inform their decisions about school readiness for children born close to cutoff dates for school entry."

The issue of whether or not some children who are simply rambunctious and don't need medication are over-diagnosed with ADHD, has been debated for quite some time now.  

A Canadian study previously found that boys aged between 6 and 12 were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD if they were the youngest in their grade. While the percentage was 7.4 among the youngest boys, it was 5.7 percent among the oldest boys.

For the current study, the researchers tracked about 12,000 children born between 1994 and 1996 in Iceland. Researchers tested the children aged between 9 and 12 and examined whether they were prescribed drugs for ADHD.

The findings of the study revealed that overall, 740 children (6 percent) were prescribed ADHD drugs at some point between 2003 and 2009. It was found that the children who were in the youngest third of their classes were 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD when compared to the oldest lot.

The study reveals that "being younger relative to one's classmates affects academic performance throughout childhood," Zoega said.

"In the education system, it leads to the question, 'What strategies or resources do we need to help ensure the well-being of all children in the classroom, where children vary in age by up to a year?'" Richard Morrow, a health research analyst at the University of British Columbia who studies ADHD, asked.

"Parents need to be aware that if behavioral issues arise for their child, this may be related to their child's relative age in the classroom. Similarly, doctors need to consider a child's relative age in school or other settings such as athletics before making a diagnosis or writing a prescription," Morrow added.

"Lastly, we may need to revisit how the diagnosis is defined to lessen the risk of inappropriate diagnosis."

"Children behave and perform according to their own maturity level within the classroom," Zoega said. "Being younger relative to one's classmates affects academic performance throughout childhood. When evaluating whether a child has ADHD, this should be taken into account to prevent unnecessary diagnoses and prescribing of stimulants."

The findings appear online Nov. 19 and in the December print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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