By Rachel Stockton
August 18, 2010
As many as one million students who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may simply be immature when compared to their older classmates.
Todd Elder of Michigan State University was the lead author on a study that examined 12,000 school children at three different levels of schooling: kindergarten, 5th grade and 8th grade. According to Elder, younger kindergartners were 60% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older classmates.
By the same token, those fifth and eighth graders who were younger were more than twice as likely to be prescribed stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, as were their older counterparts.
Elder and his team concluded that these misdiagnoses may occur because of a teacher’s “perception” of what may simply be the result of a child lacking maturity. He estimates that such misdiagnoses cost $320 million to $500 million per year, $80-$90 million of which is paid by Medicaid, the public health insurance program provided to the poor.
The National ADD Association cautions teachers and parents that in order to fit the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ definition of ADHD, there are several core features that must be present over a long period of time:
*distractibility (inability to stay on task
*impulsivity (impaired impulse control and inability to delay gratification
*hyperactivity (excessive activity and restlessness)
In order to meet the criteria, these features must last longer than six months and must have a negative impact on at least two areas of a child’s life, such as school, home, or in a social setting.
The Association emphasizes that ADHD is NOT characterized by normal childhood distractibility and impulsivity, nor is it the same as those distractions caused by hectic and chaotic home environments.
ADDA estimates that 4%-6% of the population has ADHD, 8-9 million of whom are adults.