What’s something teachers should know about assessing behavior?
Teachers see students every day, and their opinion carries a lot of weight with parents—which I know from firsthand experience. When I was a kid, I didn’t always pay attention in class, and my grades showed it. My report cards came home with several C’s scattered among the A’s and B’s, along with comments from my teachers about my lack of focus.
After meetings with my teachers, my parents would talk to me about ways to avoid distraction. One topic that never came up: my July birthday, which meant I was one of the youngest kids in the class.
We often overlook factors such as when a child is born when assessing behavior. It’s not a natural thing to consider when you’re concerned about why a child is chatty in class, easily distracted, and has trouble focusing compared with their classmates. But in a study of nearly half a million American children, my colleagues and I found that the month a child is born has a potentially huge impact when assessing their behavior. Why? We found that young kids with summer birthdays are more likely than fall- or winter-born kids to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
In most parts of the United States, age cutoffs for a given grade start in September. Kids with summer birthdays are expected to behave the same way as September-born kids, even though they’re almost a year younger and, not surprisingly, less mature. Some of them will be diagnosed with ADHD because they’re not focusing as well as the other kids, even if all they need is more time to grow. The same problem has also been observed around the world.
What does this mean for teachers and parents? Teachers can note students’ relative age when assessing their school performance. A child who is more easily distracted may just be young for their grade, something a teacher can easily identify and incorporate into their assessment. For parents: If your child has a summer birthday and you’re wondering about an ADHD diagnosis, ask the doctor, “Could it be they just need a bit more time to catch up with their peers?” Working together, doctors, parents, and teachers can make better diagnoses and help all children thrive at school.
The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.