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Early Childhood

Push for Universal Pre-K Could Lead to Overdiagnosis of ADHD, Health Professionals Argue

By Julie Blair — February 25, 2014 1 min read

The national push for universal preschool will likely send millions more 3- to 5-year-olds into high-stakes academic settings, a scenario which may lead to the misdiagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, wrote the authors of “The ADHD Explosion: Myths, Medication, Money and Today’s Push for Performance,” in a Feb. 23 essay in The New York Times.

“Making the movement universal and embedding transitional-K programs in public schools is bound to increase the pressure,” wrote Stephen P. Hinshaw, a professor of psychology, and Richard M. Scheffler, a professor of health economics, both at the University of California, Berkeley. “We’re all for high standards, but danger lurks.”

“The problem,” they added, “is that millions of American children have been labeled with ADHD when they don’t truly have it.”

The authors say that ADHD diagnoses of students within 200 percent of the federal poverty level jumped 59 percent after accountability legislation passed, compared with under 10 percent for middle- and high-income children. Nearly 70 percent of children with such a diagnosis are prescribed stimulant medications.

“There was no such trend in private schools, which are not subject to legislation like this,” the authors wrote.

Today, 6.4 million children and teenagers have been diagnosed with the disorder—a 40 percent increase from a decade ago and more than double the rate 25 years ago, the article states.

“Too many kids are identified and treated after an initial pediatric visit of 20 minutes or even less,” Hinshaw and Scheffler wrote. “Accurate diagnosis requires reports of impairment from home and school, and a thorough history of the child and family must be taken, to rule out abuse or unrelated disorders.”

To see the full article, click here.

To learn more about ADHD, click here.

To read more from us about national interest in universal preschool, click here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.