Youngest kids in class more likely to be on ADHD medication, study finds

Deciding whether or not your child is ready for school is something many parents with children born early in the year grapple with.

As many little ones prepare for their first day at big school, a new Australian study has raised concerns over whether children are being misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) due to their immaturity when compared to older classmates.

The study’s findings

Results of the Western Australian study at Curtin University, led by researcher Dr Martin Whitely, were published in the The Medical Journal of Australia, revealing the youngest children in class have a greater chance of being prescribed ADHD medication compared to their older classmates.

It has raised real fears that children are being wrongly diagnosed with the disorder and prescribed serious medications for what could just be immature behaviour standard for their age.

The study compared more than 311,000 children in Western Australia by analysing their year and month of birth, gender, and then drew further comparison between children aged six to 10 years (born July 2003 to June 2008) and children aged 11 to 15 years (born July 1998 to June 2003).

Overall, the study found almost 6000 children (1.9 per cent) received medication for ADHD, comprising mostly of boys (2.9 per cent) compared to girls (0.8 per cent).

Among the six to 10 age bracket, the study found “those born in June (the last month of the recommended school year intake) were about twice as likely to have received ADHD medication than those born in the first intake month (the previous July)”.

“For children aged 11 to 15 years, the effect was less marked, but still significant,” the study continued.

Possible explanation

Dr Whitely told the ABC that similar findings have been published overseas.

“The most plausible explanation is that teachers provide the evidence for the diagnosis of ADHD, they assess the behaviour of these kids against their peers and they are mistaking age-related immaturity for a psychiatric disorder,” Dr Whitely told the ABC.

“These kids, simply because they’re the youngest kids in the class, are being given amphetamine-like drugs because they’re young — younger than their classmates.”

He told the SBS, if parents were allowed to decide when their child is ready to start school it could prevent this misdiagnosis.

But added more research is needed to asses the real effect of the age range within classrooms.

Is your child ready for school?

If you are still confused about whether or not your child is ready, you could check out the expert advice we previously shared from Early Childhood Australia General Manager Judy Kynaston: Here’s how to tell if you child is ready to start school.

Subscribe to Babyology

Our email newsletters keep you up to date with what’s happening on Babyology.

We also have special newsletter-only offers and competitions that are exclusive to Babyology subscribers.

Sign up below:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Send this to a friend