Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, can be diagnosed as young as age 4 and as old as age 18, according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The recommendations hadn't been updated in the last decade, which had recommended diagnosis and treatment for kids ages 6 to 12, Reuters reported. The change came about because of the acknowledgement that symptoms can occur earlier than age 6.
"Treating children at a young age is important, because when we can identify them earlier and provide appropriate treatment, we can increase their chances of succeeding in school, report lead author Mark Wolraich, MD, FAAP, said in a statement. “Because of greater awareness about ADHD and better ways of diagnosing and treating this disorder, more children are being helped.”
The leading pediatricians' group also said that ADHD medications, including Ritalin and Vyvanse, can be used to treat 4- and 5-year-olds whose ADHD symptoms are moderate to severe, NPR reported. Those drugs aren't FDA-approved to treat people younger than age 6, but doctors are still allowed to prescribe drugs without an FDA recommendation.
However, Reuters reported that the group said that behavioral techniques (like positive reinforcement and punishment) should be used before resorting to medications.
"I'm glad to see the guidelines now recognize ADHD can occur both in younger children and older adolescents as well," Aude Henin, of Massachusetts General Hospital's Child Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Program, told Reuters. "I think those are things that have been ignored in the past."
However, not all health experts are lauding the move by the AAP. Dr. Claudia M. Gold, who writes the "Child In Mind" column for the Boston Globe, said that the decision to recommend diagnosis of ADHD for kids as young as age 4 is "very worrisome."
These days, about one in 10 kids is diagnosed with ADHD, the CDC reported just a few months ago in a new study. However, that news doesn't mean more kids have the disorder -- rather, detection and diagnosis may just be better than it was years ago, those study researchers said.
Children who are struggling in a variety of ways are scheduled in pediatric practices for an "ADHD evaluation." The question asked is: "Do symptoms meet diagnostic criteria?" The more appropriate question should be "What is the experience of this particular child and what can we do to set things in a better direction?" By invoking the label of ADHD, thinking may stop. Curiosity about the meaning of behavior ends.