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Have Tougher Academic Standards Led to More ADHD Diagnoses?

Have Tougher Academic Standards Led to More ADHD Diagnoses?

A new study has identified a possible link between the prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and increasing academic demands on young children.

Jeffrey P. Brosco, M.D., Ph.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, believes that that increased academic standards since the 1970s have contributed to the rise in diagnosis of ADHD.

His research findings have been published in JAMA Pediatrics.

“When we researched educational and public policy literature for studies that documented time children spent on academic activities, we were alarmed to find how substantially education had changed since the ’70s,” said Brosco, also associate director of clinical services at the Mailman Center for Child Development at UHealth, the University of Miami Health System.

“From time spent studying to enrollment rates in pre-primary programs, everything had increased, and not surprisingly, in the past 40 years we also saw ADHD diagnoses double.”

Brosco and co-investigator Anna Bona, a graduating Miller School medical student, found that from 1981 to 1997, time spent teaching three to five year-olds letters and numbers increased 30 percent.

They also discovered that the percentage of young children enrolled in full-day programs increased from 17 percent in 1970 to 58 percent in the mid-2000s. And six to eight year-olds in 1997 saw time spent on homework increase to more than two hours a week, when a decade earlier their peers were studying less than an hour.

Brosco explains that although ADHD is a neurobiological condition, it is influenced by age-dependent behaviors and demands of the environment.

As academic activities have increased, time for playing and leisure has decreased, resulting in some children being seen as outliers and ultimately being diagnosed with ADHD.

Although Brosco’s study does not prove causality — higher academic standards directly leading to ADHD —┬áit does highlight a need for additional research on the effects of increasing academic standards for young children.

“We feel that the academic demands being put on young children are negatively affecting a portion of them,” he said.

“For example, beginning kindergarten a year early doubles the chance that a child will need medications for behavioral issues.”

Brosco added that the study should not be seen as maligning full-day programming or education for young children.

He believes that children should, however, participate in learning activities that are developmentally age-appropriate. At such a young age, he said, what’s most important is that kids experience free play, social interactions and use of imagination.

For parents eager to spur academic achievement, Brosco recommends putting away the flash cards and worksheets, and instead playing a board game, cooking a meal or reading a book together.

“In the United States we’ve decided that increasing academic demands on young children is a good thing,” Brosco said. “What we haven’t considered are the potential negative effects.”

Source: University of Miami
ADHD diagnosis photo by shutterstock.

Have Tougher Academic Standards Led to More ADHD Diagnoses?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Have Tougher Academic Standards Led to More ADHD Diagnoses?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 Mar 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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