A recent study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York suggests that a child’s birth date may affect the rate at which they are prescribed medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The study, led by Dr. Helga Zeoga, found that kids who were slightly younger than the rest of their peers in class tended to score worse on standardized tests throughout the year when compared with the older kids. As a result of perceived academic or behavioral problems, the younger kids were more likely to be prescribed drugs to treat ADHD, when in fact they may have simply been less mature than their peers.
In most schools, the cut-off dates for each grade level mean that in some cases, there will be kids who are a full calendar year younger than the oldest kids in the class, and for younger kids, that one year difference can make them seem much less mature than their peers. As reported in the New York Times, this difference makes a big impact in the younger grades, “The new study found that the lower the grade, the greater the disparity. For children in the fourth grade, researchers found that those in the youngest third of their class had an 80 to 90 percent increased risk of scoring in the lowest level on standardized tests. They were also 50% more likely than the oldest third of their classmates to be prescribed stimulants for ADHD.”
The study followed over 10,000 students born in Iceland, which has a high rate of ADHD prescriptions that is close to what the US currently averages. The students were all born in the mid-1990s, and the study tracked them from around ages 9-12 (or 4th-7th grade). According to the report, Dr. Zoega’s research isn’t intended to be an argument against the use of ADHD medication in children, but it should instead open parents and teachers up to the idea that younger kids in a class may have some maturity issues that aren’t necessarily related to ADHD. Zeoga said, “Don’t jump to conclusions when deciding whether a child has ADHD. It could be the maturity level.”