New Study Shows that Children Could be Overdiagnosed and Overtreated with ADHD

by Amna El Tawil
ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is quite common in American kids as well as in children in other parts of the world. Although scientists still don’t know the exact cause of this disorder, they have successfully identified some factors that contribute to it. Based on the fact that large international studies discovered a connection between birth date and ADHD diagnosis, a team of researchers from Australia sought to find out more about this relationship.
A team of scientists led by Dr. Martin Whitely from Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, analyzed data year and month of birth from 311,384 schoolchildren divided into two 5-year bands. According to Medical News Today, one group of schoolchildren was aged between 6-10 years and born between July 2003 and June 2008, while children in the other group were aged between 11-15 years and were born from July 1998 through June 2003.
Of these, 5,937 children (or 1.9 percent) received ADHD medication, with the boys receiving medication at a higher rate than girls – 2.9% compared with 0.8%, respectively. The analysis revealed that the youngest children in a school class are more likely to receive ADHD medication than their older classmates.
More precisely, from the 6-10-year-old group, children born in June – which is the last month of the recommended school entry age – were approximately twice as likely to receive medication as those born in the first school entry month, which is the previous July. In the second band, comprising children aged between 11-15 years, the effect was less pronounced but still statistically significant.
The strong association between the birth date and ADHD diagnosis isn’t the only discovery from this study whose findings were published in Medical Journal of Australia. Whitely and his colleagues confirm that results are consistent with findings from large international studies. For example, 1.9% medication prescribing rate is comparable with the rate determined by a Taiwanese study quoted by the authors – 1.6%. Additionally, the Taiwanese study, along with three other North American studies, found the ADHD medication prescribing rate to be “at least” twice as high. The findings could mean that ADHD is overdiagnosed. Why? These findings, as well as results from American studies, indicate that developmental immaturity is mislabeled as a mental disorder and unnecessarily treated with stimulant medication. Basically, children who are more active or naughtier than other kids are, automatically, diagnosed with ADHD, receive medication, even though they may not have the disorder.