The link between age and ADHD diagnosis

Published on Tuesday, 18 April 2017
Last updated on Wednesday, 14 October 2020

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Interesting new research from Curtin University in Western Australia is likely to raise the perennial question of whether children should be held back from starting primary school in favour of an additional year in an early childhood setting.

The Curtin researchers have established that the youngest children in West Australian classrooms are more likely than their older classmates to receive medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The results raise concerns that age related immaturity is being misdiagnosed as ADHD.

The researchers analysed data from more than 300,000 West Australian children aged 6-10 years. Curtin University Adjunct Research Fellow and lead researcher Dr Martin Whitely, said the team compared the proportions of WA children born in the early and late months of a recommended school-year intake who received at least one prescription for an ADHD medication in 2013.

"Among children aged 6-10, those born in June – the last month of a recommended school-year intake – were about twice as likely to have received ADHD medication than those born the previous July – the first month," Dr Whitely said.

Delayed school entry is much less common in WA than other states. Further research on the ADHD late birthdate effect in states with greater flexibility for parents in deciding when their child starts school is the next priority for the team.

The researchers have yet to determine whether allowing parents to hold their children back could change the results and lead to fewer ADHD diagnoses.

"Allowing parents to decide when their child is ready for school, could prevent misdiagnosis," Dr Whitely said.

"Alternatively, the greater age range within a class that occurs when there is increased flexibility may increase the late birthdate effect. Unless we do the research we simply won't know the answer to this important question."

The Australian results are consistent with findings from similar studies from overseas.

For more information on the findings read this article by the lead researcher Dr Martin Whitely.

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