Education Nation Misdiagnosed

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Monday, September 13, 2010 - 7:05am

New study finds children labeled as ADHD may not be.

The diagnosis of ADHD has soared by 500 percent since the 1980s.

Now a new study suggests a large number of kids are misdiagnosed and are often medicated for a disease they don't have.

Dr. Bill Evans teaches economic statistics at Notre Dame.

Evans and colleagues at North Carolina State and the University of Minnesota joined forces to study ADHD and why so many more children are being diagnosed and medicated.

They spent a year looking at the exact birth dates of 60,000 kids in grades K-12.

"What our work tends to demonstrate is that there seems to be a lot of misdiagnosis and we estimate that there are probability about a million kids that are misdiagnosed defining them as having ADHD when really they're just young for their grade," Dr. William Evans explained.

Start dates for schools varying from state to state make a big difference for the youngest children.

"Every day has a school that you have to turn five by in order to start kindergarten and if your birthday is before that, a lot of kids are going to start and they're going to be the youngest in their class. If your birthday is right after that, then you're going to be the oldest kid in your class," Dr. Evans said.

Using those exact birth dates, their study, published in the Journal of Health Economics suggests shows children considered young for their class are misdiagnosed with ADHD at a much higher rate.

"But if you take a look on either side of the cutoff there are staggering differences in the cutoff of the ADHD diagnosis," Dr. Evans said.

Teachers are often making the suggestion of ADHD when the problem could simply be maturity.

"Part of the problem is that a lot parents are getting their child diagnosed because the teacher says he's acting up in school so you have to ask, is the kid acting up in school because of this condition or is the kid acting up because he's just young for the grade," Dr. Evans said.

It makes a difference from school performance to athletics and it's much harder for kids to catch up, even when they get to high school and college.

"The evidence is pretty clear that the older ones are the kids that are doing better in class," Dr. Evans said.

So how do we help our children, especially those who make the date but may just not be ready for school?

"I think the solution is to ask a lot of questions have the kid evaluated by a professional and ask "is this really behavior that is consistent with the disease or is this behavior that's consistent with the age," Dr. Evans said.

For those who do have ADHD the behaviors last into adulthood so a true diagnosis is important.

Just as important is making sure our kids are not misdiagnosed with a disorder that may really have more to do with them just being too young for school.

Dr. Evans says more than one million kids may have been misdiagnosed and more than 800,000 may be taking stimulant medication based only on maturity.

Once you have a true diagnosis, the National Institute of Mental Health says treatment options include medication, behavioral treatment or a combination.

Their study found the combination produced better results than behavioral treatment alone.
 

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