A study just came out that talks about how children who are the youngest ones in their school class are often identified by teachers as needing to be referred, and by doctors who often diagnose these children with ADHD. For example, in Wisconsin the cut-off for attending kindergarten is September 1. Generally, students must be 5 years old by September 1 or they have to wait a year before attending kindergarten. The study appears to show that the youngest children (with birthdays in August) in elementary classrooms are often the ones more often diagnosed with ADHD, when in fact many may have immature behaviors when compared to their older peers, and not a disability at all.
My first thought reading about this study was concerning the misdiagnosis of gifted children. There are many gifted children who are misdiagnosed with ADHD rather than giftedness, and they suffer through many years of school and medication while still not having their gifted needs met. Many parents have contacted me through the years with questions about this matter since teachers suggested they get their child looked at by a doctor for ADHD because the child won’t sit still, or appears to be daydreaming, or is very unorganized. The assumption is that the child has ADHD, and nothing else is considered. A closer look may reveal a gifted child with these same characteristics, not a child with ADHD. In addition, some children who start school early because of their giftedness, or are grade or subject accelerated, may be quite a bit younger in chronological age than their class peers, but not in intellectual ability.
Since ADHD is a subjective diagnosis (there is no concrete blood test, for example), and should never be diagnosed by a teacher, it is often difficult for parents to know what to do. Teachers suggest the child has needs, but parents may see a totally different child, or view the ‘needs’ differently when the child is outside of school. Sometimes teachers view active children as non-compliant, and that is the real issue: the teacher wants compliant children in class. As a teacher I know the challenges of an overcrowded classroom, mandates of too much to teach with too little time, or of serving active learners when the school culture is one of quiet compliance. Nonetheless, the teacher is the one who children look to all day long to help them learn by meeting their individual learning needs.
Parents have to advocate for their children, so that they get the mental stimulation and learning environment that meets their needs, rather than sitting still at their desk all day to be compliant in a quiet classroom. I realize these comments are controversial. In my work with gifted children and their parents, as a parent of a gifted student, and in my work with children with disabilities, I have learned from them all that gifted children need advocates, and need to advocate for themselves in the classroom so that their learning needs are met, just like other students’ learning needs are met. Misdiagnosing a disability is not the way to meet the needs of gifted children regardless of their age or grade.
“Younger School Entry Could Set Stage for ADHD Diagnosis”
The New York Times, November 28, 2018
“Youngest kids in class are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than older kids, study finds”
The Washington Post, November 28, 2018
“Youngest Children in a Class Are Most Likely to Get ADHD Diagnosis”
National Public Radio, All Things Considered, November 28, 2018
The original study abstract:
“Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder and Month of School Enrollment”
The New England Journal of Medicine
Online: November 28, 2019
As reported by Reuters:
Many schools are taking an individualized approach to educating students. Some districts call it individualized instruction, others call it personalized learning, and still others promote personalization, or student-centered learning. While all of these terms may have different nuances, they all have similarities in that the goal is to meet the individual learning needs of each student. For gifted students this may provide needed challenge and allow for students to pursue individual interests as a means to learn. For example, having an interest in a particular topic such as the stars, can be the basis for interdisciplinary learning. Reading, writing, math, science, history, and other subjects can be learned using stars as the main topic. Reading and writing about stars, doing math problems about star distance from earth, researching scientific facts we know about stars, reading the history of our learning about stars and outer space, and other activities make interdisciplinary learning in the topic an interesting and exciting way to learn the same content as others, but with an individualized approach just for the gifted learner, or other students in the class. Some school districts have teachers write learning plans for students (often called differentiated education plans), and gifted students can help write their own plans, ensuring the details of their learning needs are addressed in the plan.
Some resources for reading more about individualized instruction follow. These are only a few websites; you may explore more if you do your own web search.
Personalized Learning, Great Schools Partnership
Personalized Learning Plans, Davidson Academy
Individual Instruction Plan Menu for the Gifted Child, Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska
Ask the Doctor