Teachers May Misattribute Age-Related Immaturity to ADHD and ASD, New Study Finds

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Teachers May Misattribute Age-Related Immaturity to ADHD and ASD, New Study Finds

A groundbreaking study led by experts at the University of Nottingham sheds light on a concerning trend: teachers may inadvertently misattribute signs of age-related immaturity in children to conditions such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The research highlights the importance of considering a child’s relative age when diagnosing these conditions.

Teachers May Misattribute Age-related Immaturity To Adhd And Asd, New Study Finds

The Study

The study examined how a child’s age in relation to their classmates influences the likelihood of receiving an ADHD diagnosis or medication. Researchers analyzed 32 studies from around the world, with most focusing on ADHD and two specifically addressing ASD.

Findings

  1. Relative Age Effect: Younger students within a school year were disproportionately diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication compared to their older peers. The scale of this “relative age” effect varied across the studies.
  2. ASD Diagnosis: Similarly, the youngest children in a class were more likely to be diagnosed with ASD, although further research is needed due to the limited number of available studies.
  3. Teacher vs. Parent Ratings: Interestingly, teachers tended to rate younger students as exhibiting ADHD symptoms more frequently than parents did.

Expert Insights

  • Professor Kapil Sayal, senior author of the paper, emphasised the need to consider relative age when diagnosing ADHD. He stated, “Adults involved in identifying or raising concerns over a child’s behaviour should recognise that relative immaturity may be mistaken for ADHD symptoms.”
  • Dr. Eleni Frisira, lead author of the study, highlighted the critical role teachers play in identifying ADHD symptoms. She urged support for teachers in considering relative age during assessments.
  • Dr. Josephine Holland, another author, expressed concern that despite research showing this phenomenon for over a decade, it hasn’t significantly impacted practice.

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