A new study suggests that children are far less likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the U.K. than they are in the U.S. — but more kids are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the U.K.
In the research, investigators question if the prevalence of ADHD or ASD is a result of cultural bias.
ADHD is thought to be the most common disorder of childhood. A 2009 study in the U.S. found that 6.3 per cent of children aged 5-9 were diagnosed with ADHD. In contrast, just 1.5 per cent of parents in the UK reported a diagnosis of ADHD in children aged between 6-8.
The UK prevalence rate for ADHD was determined by revewing data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, a sample of more than 19,000 children believed to be representative of the population.
Ginny Russell, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said: “Our findings reveal that doctors in the U.K. are far less likely to deploy the ADHD label than their U.S. counterparts. This difference may be a result of cultural factors.
“For example, more stringent criteria for diagnosing ADHD are used in the UK, or it may be that parental concerns over using drugs such as Ritalin to treat younger patients mean that they resist diagnosis for their children.
“It is important to identify diagnostic trends and the reasons behind them, as various criteria in different cultural contexts may mean that children are missing out on health services — the diagnostic label may determine the support families receive,” said Russell, of the University of Exeter Medical School.
“Equally, it is important that children are not over-diagnosed.”
The same study shows that autism diagnosis is on the rise. Some I.7 per cent of parents reported that children aged 6-8 had been identified as having an ASD.
“Increasing awareness of autism, the de-stigmatisation of ASD, and diagnosis of children at a younger age may all be contributing towards the label of ASD being used increasingly in the UK,” Russell said.
The finding suggests an increasing trend in the UK to apply the ASD label which may be due to a combination of greater awareness, successive diagnosis of younger children, broadening criteria and/or lessening of social stigma associated with the label.
Questions remain over whether the rises in ASD diagnoses reflect “real” increases in the frequency of the disorders or whether they are due entirely to changing diagnostic criteria and increased awareness.
Russell is currently examining data from two U.K. birth cohort studies to try to help establish whether there has been an increase in symptoms, or simply a rise in reporting and diagnosis.
“It is important to establish if there is a real increase in children with symptoms because we can then try to discover the environmental or social factors behind the rise in order to take preventive measures,” Russell said.
The study is published online in the Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders.
Source: University of Exeter