Children born in December, in school districts with a deadline of December 31, are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability as those born in January. ADHD was found not to affect the association between month of birth and the likelihood of a diagnosis of a learning disability.
The new register-based study looked at children born in Finland between 1996 and 2002. Out of nearly 400,000 children, 3,000 were diagnosed with a specific learning disability, for example in reading, writing or mathematics. the age of ten.
“We were familiar with the effects of relative age on general school performance, but there were no previous studies on the association between specific clinically diagnosed learning disabilities and relative age. , that’s why we wanted to study it, ”explains doctoral student MD Bianca Arrhenius from the Center for Child Psychiatry at the University of Turku, Finland.
In previous studies, children born later in the year, and therefore younger than their classmates, were found to be at higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders, poor academic performance, and being bullied.
ADHD does not affect learning disabilities
Many children with learning disabilities are diagnosed with ADHD. The study compared children diagnosed with both learning disabilities and ADHD separately from children with learning disabilities but without ADHD, and ADHD did not affect the association between the month of birth and the likelihood of a diagnosis of a learning disability.
“This finding was surprising. In children referred to specialist care, the problems are generally complex. We did not expect the impact of relative age on ‘pure’ learning disability to be so large, given the results of previous research on age relating to ADHD. ” Dr Arrhenius said.
“The diagnosis of learning disabilities by psychological tests also takes better account of the exact age of the child compared to the methods used to diagnose ADHD. For this reason, too, we expected more moderate differences between the months of birth. It seems that relatively young children are more easily referred to specialized health care, ”asks Arrhenius.
Aim for equality
Research shows that teachers, health workers and parents need to be aware of the phenomenon of relative age, especially when assessing a child’s ability to learn.
“There is a risk of overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis, which means that the youngest in the class are proportionately so diagnosed that the older students in the class may even be deprived of the diagnosis and rehabilitation they require. need. More systematic screening for learning disabilities could be an approach that would even out the effect of relative age on referrals to specialist health care, ”says Arrhenius.
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