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ADHD diagnosis "may just reflect immaturity"

"Children should be able to start school at different ages"
5:53 min

A new report indicates that many diagnoses among Swedish children of Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, may just reflect immaturity. Statistics from the National Board of Health and Welfare indicate that children born towards of the end of the year are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than those born earlier in the year.

The symptoms of ADHD, characterized by problems in paying attention in the classroom, usually display before the age of seven. It’s the most common psychiatric disorder among children.  Treatment controversially often involves amphetamine-like drugs, which paradoxically can have a calming effect on hyperactive children.

But the new study, reported in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, casts serious doubts on the current approach. It reveals that boys born in December have a 34 percent greater chance of being diagnosed with ADHD than those born during the first half of the year.

This reflects the composition of Swedish school classes, in which children born in the same calendar year are kept together. So those born in December are 11 months younger than their classmates born in January, which can mean major differences in maturity, especially in the earlier classes.

The figures for girls were similar, but not as pronounced as among boys.

One of those who says the diagnosis may reflect immaturity rather than the disorder is Björn Kadesjö, senior physician in child neuropsychiatry at Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska University Hospital. He tells Dagens Nyheter that the youngest boys often just can’t handle the demands of school. He says the children might not have such great problems in the classroom if the schools met them on their own conditions.

On the other hand, Agneta Hellström, head of the ADHD Center, which offers information about the disorder to families, disagrees. She tells the newspaper that she thinks children born earlier in the year are diagnosed with ADHD far too seldom.

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