Could that diagnosis of ADHD be an age thing not a brain thing ?

the baby in the classFor some kids, starting BIG SCHOOL is a blessing, finally a chance to learn something, be all independent and get smart. For others, it seems to be the introduction to misery – they can’t get anything right and seem to incite negative responses from all the adults around them, despite doing their very best.

Kids in the B group often end up being labelled as suffering from ADHD. But research suggests for some of these little ones, the trouble is not a fundamental brain imbalance, but just simply they’re the babies in the class.

The diagnosis…….

It is the teacher conference every parent fears…..

“Your child is a disruptive force in my classroom – you need to DO something about it, or else……”

The something that is often recommended is a prescription med. A difficult pill to swallow on many levels. Putting little kids on psychoactive meds, seems fundamentally wrong and risky and putting your kid on a psychoactive med, feels like you have failed as a parent.

But is it always necessary ?

At 6 years old a month matters

A North Carolina State University study opened up a can of worms when they asked the question, does a child’s date of birth impact whether they receive an ADHD diagnosis ?

They weren’t tracking season of birth, which sometimes matters, but the age at which the child entered BIG school.

School authorities typically select a D-Day for school eligibility. If a child is born before the specific day, the child is permitted to begin attending school that year, children born a day later, may only start school the following year.

The idea is to have all the children more-or-less at the same stage of development, but when you’re 6 years old, a month actually matters. In a single classroom – there will be children 12 months older (sometimes more), than their peers.

Baby brain’s not wired to sit perfectly still

The North Carolina team poured over the data from two national health surveys and private health insurance claims databases between 1996 and 2006.

They were looking for children born on the cusp of D-day i.e. the children who were more-or-less the same age chronologically speaking, but were academically different, because of their school start date.

These kids showed an interesting pattern, when it came to the ADHD diagnosis. The kids who were held back for the year, were 25 % less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, when compared with the early starters.

It appeared the “babies”, the youngest kids in the class seemed more likely to raise the red flag of attention/hyperactivity troubles.

Brain size counts in ADHD

Scans of the brain’s of children struggling with the gambit of ADHD symptoms are typically smaller i.e. less developed, than kids without these troubles.

How quickly a brain develops depends on lots of things:

  • genes,
  • how well it is fed, both before and after birth,
  • what stresses and strains it is dealing with both chemical and emotional

A 6 year old on the dot brain is 72 months old, a 6 year old going 7 is 84 months old. The difference is significant !

the oldie in the class

A baby brain may just need time not meds

Many children do appear to largely grow out of the ADHD diagnosis – probably because their brain finally catches up with their peers, so the troublesome behaviours improve.

If you’re facing the need TO DO SOMETHING. You do need to do something – ignoring a real problem, will not serve your child well. But ensure the chronological age of your child’s brain is being factored into the equation.

A baby brain may just need a little time, good food and lots of hugs and kisses, to learn to pay attention.

DOI: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2010.07.005

Measuring Inappropriate Medical Diagnosis and Treatment in Survey Data: The Case of ADHD among School-Age Children. Journal of Health Economics (2010) 29(5):657-73  Evans WN, Morrill MS, Parente ST 

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