A new government report finds that around one-third of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the United States were diagnosed before age six. The report, from a researcher at the U.S. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, also found that most children diagnosed before age six did not see a psychologist or mental health specialist for evaluation. The research identifies trends in ADHD diagnosis that may help health care practitioners provide better care.
The researchers interviewed nearly 3,000 parents of children who had been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives. Half of the children were diagnosed with ADHD before age seven. Thirty-one percent were diagnosed before age six.
In 75 percent of ADHD diagnoses before age six, a child’s parents or family members were the first to raise concerns about the child’s attention or behavior. Half of the diagnoses before children reached six years of age came from general pediatricians or family doctors. Only a quarter of children diagnosed before age six saw a psychiatrist or other mental health professional for the diagnosis.
The researchers report that general practitioners tend to follow established guidelines for diagnosing ADHD by gathering information from teachers and parents before making a diagnosis.
The results do not necessarily indicate that children are being over-diagnosed with ADHD, but they do raise the possibility. Preschool-aged children are in a period of rapid development. Boisterous or unruly behavior may stabilize by first grade without intervention.
However, researchers suggest that seeking diagnosis is appropriate for some children. Children from families with a history of disorders should seek neuropsychological testing. Additionally, Joel Nigg, director of the division of psychology at Oregon Health & Science University, states that if “the child is unable to learn, unable to participate in group or preschool activities, or where a negative relationship is developing between parent and child, then a professional evaluation and intervention are likely indicated.”
This research is published in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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