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Immaturity may be mistaken for ADHD - study

A new study has found that the youngest children in the class are more likely than the oldest to be prescribed medication for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, leading researchers to speculate that immaturity is being misdiagnosed as a mental disorder.

03 Feb 2017

A new study has found that the youngest children in the class are more likely than the oldest to be prescribed medication for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, leading researchers to speculate that immaturity is being misdiagnosed as a mental disorder.

The Curtin University study of more than 300,000 children in Western Australia found that children born in June - the final month of the recommended school year intake - were twice as likely to have received ADHD medication as those born in July, the first intake month. 

Among children aged six to 10, those born in June were about twice as likely to be medicated compared to those born in July, the study found. 

The difference was less marked, but still significant, for children aged 11 to 15, the researchers wrote. 

“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,” lead researcher Dr Martin Whitely told ABC Radio.

Of the children included in the study, 1.9 per cent received medication for ADHD. 

Boys were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, the study found: 2.9 per cent of boys were receiving medication, as compared to 0.8 per cent of girls.

AMA Vice President, Dr Tony Bartone, said that ADHD diagnosis was a “very complex area”.

“[ADHD] is complex, it is diagnosed early in life, and can be mimicked by other presentations,” Dr Bartone told Daily Mail Australia

“The criteria are subjective, and open to interpretation, and it does require a diagnosis to be formalised by a specialist who has considerable experience, such as a child psychiatrist or a paediatrician.

“Obviously monitoring the management plan and ruling out other possibilities [than ADHD] is time consuming and requires a number of points of contact.”

The study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Maria Hawthorne


Published: 03 Feb 2017