Studies Show ADHD Misdiagnosed In Youngest Students

The youngest students in class are frequently misdiagnosed with ADHD recent studies suggest according to a news story in USA Today, Youngest in class get ADHD label.

Nearly 1 million children may have been misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, not because they have real behavior problems, but because they’re the youngest kids in their kindergarten class, researchers say.

If 1 million mistakes is a troubling number to consider, 4.5 million mistakes, the total number of kids so labeled, is an even more disturbing figure.

Kids who are the youngest in their grades are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest children, according to a study out today from Michigan State University, given exclusively to USA TODAY. A second study, by researchers at North Carolina State University and elsewhere, came to similar conclusions. Both are scheduled for publication in the Journal of Health Economics.

I’ve heard it suggested before that the more immature for their age students are the ones who most often receive the ADHD label. Here is a study showing that birth-time-wise, the youngest students are those most likely to have the label attached to them. I would like to make the point here that students don’t develop evenly, and perhaps we need to look more closely at other students who have been so labeled as well. The oldest student in class is not necessarily the most mature, and so there could be some further variations on a theme for us to explore.

Misdiagnosing children can have long-lasting effects, says assistant professor of economics Todd Elder, author of the Michigan State study. In fifth and eighth grade, the youngest kids in a class were more than twice as likely to use Ritalin, a stimulant commonly prescribed for ADHD, compared with the oldest students, his study says.

One doctor suggested rather than that the younger students are being over diagnosed, perhaps the older students are being under diagnosed. I would suggest, on the other hand, that the diagnosis of “mental illness” is always made too easily, and so, if anything, the error is being made on the side of over diagnosis. We must remember that the numbers of people receiving disability benefits for psychiatric problems has made dramatic leaps in the last few decades. If you want this rate to decline, it will do so only when the conditions cease to be diagnosed with such frequency.

Having a “serious mental illness” wasn’t always the popular self-absorbing preoccupation that it has become today. People didn’t always feel so compelled to join the ranks of the recently declared demented. The persistent anti-stigma campaigning of kooks “in recovery” has done much to turn that situation around. Although madmen and mad women are still very much a minority population, given more campaigning, perhaps they can reverse this disparity, after which it truly will be a mad world.

2 Responses

  1. Psst. Have you ever checked out FRDB. There’s a thread about this article in Science Discussions. I won’t tell you who I am but you’ll probably spot me if you care to look.

    • I think you mentioned it once before, and so, yes.

      I went to the thread you’re referring to, and your user name is an easy quess I’m not letting out. Very interesting discussion. As for some of these folks arguments, what a load of hokum. Then again, there are some valid points being made as well.


      This is untrue for several reasons. PET scans and MRIs can pick up the differences in the brains of children with ADHD. There is a lack of blood flow to the prefrontal cortex and certain areas of brain regions are smaller. Also, there are twin studies which show that the disorder has a strong genetic link. Just because there is no definitive biological test for the disorder, does not mean that it doesn’t really exist. The same holds true for other medical disorders as well. The disorder is manifested by behavior, but caused by underlying neurobiological differences.

      Claims son has it (i.e. it’s personal.)

      Now have they done PET and MRI scans of children on ritalin class drugs who don’t have ADHD diagnoses? Probably not. Ritalin, adderal, etc., are probably thought of as too dangerous to give to “well” children. Next question, were any of these kids labeled ADHD not on the stimulants given obstensibly to treat the disease. Again, probably not. Without removing psychiatric drugs from the equation, we don’t know if these PET and MRI scans aren’t actually just showing us what the brains of children on stimulants look like.

      As for any genetic link, those genetic links sort of disappear the closer you get to finding them. The search for the “mental illness” gene has come up empty, and so now researchers are talking clusters of genes. They’re also talking environment gene interactions. Okay. If 100% of the people given a hallucinogenic drug experience visual hallucinations, 100% of the people have the genes for having these hallucinations under the drug. I imagine there is a percentage of people given the ADHD label that don’t have any of the genetic mutations researchers are looking at. Explain them.

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