The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 11 percent of children ages four to seventeen have been diagnosed with ADHD, and that number increased 42 percent from 2003-2004 to 2011-2012, with a majority of those diagnosed placed on medication. Perhaps more troubling, one-third of these diagnoses occur in children under age six
It should be no surprise that as we place young children in artificial learning environments, separated from their family for long lengths of time, and expect them to comply with a standardized, test-driven curriculum, it will be too much for many of them.
New findings by Harvard Medical School researchers confirm that it’s not the children who are failing, it’s the schools we place them in too early. These researchers discovered that children who start school as among the youngest in their grade have a much greater likelihood of getting an ADHD diagnosis than older children in their grade. In fact, for the U.S. states studied with a September 1st enrollment cut-off date, children born in August were 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older peers.
The study’s lead researcher at Harvard, Timothy Layton, concludes: “Our findings suggest the possibility that large numbers of kids are being overdiagnosed and overtreated for ADHD because they happen to be relatively immature compared to their older classmates in the early years of elementary school.”
Parents don’t need Harvard researchers to tell them that a child who just turned five is quite different developmentally from a child who is about to turn six. Instead, parents need to be empowered to challenge government schooling motives and mandates, and to opt-out.
As universal government preschool programs gain traction, delaying schooling or opting out entirely can be increasingly difficult for parents. Iowa, for example, recently lowered its compulsory schooling age to four-year-olds enrolled in a government preschool program.
Deciding when a child should enter school is one of the most far-reaching decisions of a young parent’s life. The overwhelming societal pressure is to do it as soon as possible, but that’s not always best. I like to think of age differences in terms of percentages. A 2-year-old is 100% older than a 1-year old. A 5-year-old is 25% older than a 4-year-old. The larger the percentage, the greater the difference in kids – and then one has to factor in the individual characteristics of the child. Some kids mature faster than others.
There is a big difference in 4-year-old Kindergarten, for example, between the brand new 4-year-olds born in August and the ones that were born in the October before. Those older kids are almost 25% older than their classmates and in a different part of their development. And yet schools are necessarily designed to teach to the mean. The problem is that the younger the child is, the greater the deviation from that mean.
This is why I don’t support mandatory 4-year-old Kindergarten. I don’t support mandatory 5-year-old Kindergarten for the same reason. Ideally, a loving parent at home is far better equipped to address the specific development needs of their child to get them ready for their formal education years. When that is not the case, Kindergarten might be a better choice for the child. And even then, a parent should have the choice to decide which level is most appropriate for their child.