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You Say It’s Your Birthday…Squirrel!

Depending on her birthday, this little girl could be at increased risk of being (mis)diagnosed as having ADHD. Photo courtesy of ssdg4773.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a serious matter. So it is worth paying attention when researchers find that many kids are apparently being misdiagnosed with ADHD because of their birthdays.

A study from NC State, Notre Dame and Minnesota finds that children who are born just before the cut-off date for kindergarten enrollment are 25 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than children born just after the cut-off date. In other words, the youngest kids in class are diagnosed with ADHD far more often than the oldest kids in class. The study is being published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Health Economics.

The researchers looked at kids born just before or just after the cut-off date because children born only a few days apart should have the same underlying risk of having ADHD. The significant disparity in diagnosis indicates that something is at play other than biological or medical factors.

The behaviors used to diagnose ADHD in kindergarteners are similar (or identical) to what is considered normal behavior in slightly younger children. So researchers believe that many of the younger kids in class are being misdiagnosed with ADHD because they are exhibiting age-appropriate behavior.

If birth date contributes to the misdiagnosis of even a small percentage of children, it could be a big deal – because so many kids are diagnosed each year. According to the CDC, in 2003 approximately 4.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD. It looks like some of those 4.4 million don’t have ADHD, but might be better diagnosed as being too young.

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  1. I am really pleased to see a study was done and published on this. My son was diagnosed with ADHD/ODD at 4 years old after being “asked to not return” (aka kicked out of) 3 preschools for behavior. He was born 8 weeks premature so IF he had been born on his due date he would have been “too young” to start kindergarten when he was 5 years old but because his actual birthday was before the “cut off” he was “too old” for preschool and “had to” go into kindergarten unless I choose to home school him (at least that is what I was told by preschool directors and the public school system). When will the schools (both private and public) start listening to parents — the people who know their children best and allow kids to be “too young”.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story Caroline! You make an important point. While the research shows that many kids are being misdiagnosed as having ADHD, that does not mean that every diagnosis is wrong. Catching ADHD early, and taking steps to address ADHD, can really help kids who have the disorder.

  3. I have a child diagnosed at age 5. I waited until the teachers were having an incredibly hard time with him and at the time he also had signs of low self-esteem. I think one of the problems is that many parents obtain a diagnosis from their pediatrician which sometimes is not that thorough. My own pediatrician acting strangely about the lengths that I was going to for my own child and didn’t understand why I didn’t just discuss it with him. We sought several opinions because I knew my child was young but his father was diagnosed at age 30 and I do believe strongly that ADHD is genetic. Now, my son is making almost straight As at a highly regarded private school and is a happy well-adjusted 11 year old. I am so thankful I got him treated early and educated myself. I know this has been a reason for his success and I think he will continue to be successful as long as the disability is managed. I hope this article and study will not turn people off. Maybe everyone just needs to be more thorough! 🙂