Figures from Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) show that children born late in the year are diagnosed with – and prescribed drugs for – ADHD much more often than children born earlier in the year.
In Sweden, children who are born in the same calendar year all start school together meaning that kids born in November and December are among the youngest in their classes when they enroll in school.
Thus children who are seen to have trouble focusing in school may be having a hard time, not because they suffer from ADHD, but because they have yet to develop to the same extent as peers born earlier in the year, the statistics suggest.
“It might simply be immaturity. Boys born late in the year can’t handle the demands of school,” Björn Kadesjö, a paediatric psychiatrist at Sahlgrenska hospital in Gothenburg, told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
The figures show, for example, that boys born in December have a 34 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with ADHD compared to children born in the first six months of the year.
Data from Sweden’s prescription drugs registry tells a similar story: 35 percent more boys who are born in December are prescribed medication to combat ADHD symptoms than the average for kids born in the first half of the year.
The trend is similar for girls born in Sweden, although the differences are less pronounced, DN reported.
Another striking conclusion from the prescription drugs registry is that children born in the last three days of the year are 39 times more likely to be given drugs to treat ADHD compared to children born in the first three days of the year.
Other studies have shown that regardless of when children begin school during the calendar year, it is younger children who are often diagnosed with ADHD.
Kadesjö believes that children wouldn’t have as many problems when they start school if schools were better at making adjustments based on each child’s own individual needs.
He explained that when families seek help for children suspected of suffering from some form of ADHD, they have often struggled with the problem for years and children have already been labeled as troublemakers.
“A positive daily situation at school would be optimal, but that’s not something that has been created and so the child needs to seek help and sometimes a little medicine can help,” he told DN.