Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders in the United States. Why is that? A study from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine suggests that increasing ADHD prevalence may be related to increasing academic demands. ADHD diagnoses have nearly doubled in the last 40 years and, during the same period, academic demands on young children have intensified. This correlation may account for some of ADHD’s rising prevalence.
The researchers hypothesized that the increasing prevalence of ADHD could be related to more strenuous academic standards that have taken effect in the United States since the 1970s. They reviewed educational and public policy literature to find studies documenting the amount of time children spent on academic activities, comparing how academic requirements have changed over the last 40 years.
Academic time commitment for young children has risen sharply since the 1970s. The researchers found that:
- From 1981 to 1997, the time spend teaching three- to five-year-olds letters and numbers increased by 30 percent.
- From 1970 to the mid-2000s, the percentage of young children enrolled in full-day programs increased from 17 percent to 58 percent.
- In 1997, six- to eight-year olds spent over two hours per week on homework, compared to less than an hour in the 1980s.
Although ADHD is a neurobiological condition, it is influenced by the environment and age-related expectations and behaviors. The researchers call for more investigation into the effects of increasing academic standards for young children.
“We feel that the academic demands being put on young children are negatively affecting a portion of them. For example, beginning kindergarten a year early doubles the chance that a child will need medications for behavioral issues,” stated lead researcher Jeffrey P. Brosco, M.D., Ph.D. “In the United States we’ve decided that increasing academic demands on young children is a good thing. What we haven’t considered are the potential negative effects.”
This research is published in JAMA Pediatrics.