A new study out of the University of Virginia titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” is suggesting that children who are being pressured to learn more, sooner, are actually being misdiagnosed with learning disabilities like ADHD. The study suggests that many are worried that there is far too much pressure currently to 'learn' being placed on children in kindergarten than when in the past it was more about play-based learning.
Researchers from the University of Virginia compared kindergarten classrooms from 1998 with those in 2010. The sample they studied included 2,500 public school kindergarten teachers in 1998 and 2,700 in 2010. After studying the data they found that the expectations placed on kindergarten students in 2010 were much higher than those who were in kindergarten in 1998. In fact, kindergarten classrooms in 2010 more resemble first-grade classrooms from the '90s.
While kindergarten was more focused on play and play-based learning in the '90s, the study found that teachers in 2010 were more focused on already beginning academic instruction. The study found a 33 % increase in teachers who believed that kindergarten students should know their ABC's and how to properly hold a pencil before they even begin kindergarten.
Perhaps the biggest jump in expectation came with regards to reading. In 1998, 31% of teachers felt their students should learn to read in kindergarten. That number jumped to 80% of teachers who felt the same in 2010.
A Harvard Medical School study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that placing children in school too early or having an increasing pressure to learn placed on kindergarten students may be resulting in inaccurate diagnoses. The study found "evidence that some children are being diagnosed with ADHD not because they have the condition, but because they are less mature than others in their class, who can be up to 11 months older."
"When the cutoff for attending kindergarten was having a birth date before September 1, the odds of being labeled hyperactive were 34% higher for the youngest children (those born in August) than for the oldest children, those born the previous September."
"For every week after the cut-off, they're more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD," lead author Timothy Layton, Ph.D., told Reuters. Senior study author Anupam Jena, M.D., Ph.D. also noted that even a small difference in an age like 11 months or a year can make a huge difference in behavior. "As children grow older, small differences in age equalize and dissipate over time, but behaviorally speaking, the difference between a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old could be quite pronounced."
Dr. Jena suggests looking at your child's age if a teacher or doctor is suggesting an ADHD diagnosis, and whether or not they may need a few months to mature. "Let’s see how this child develops over the next 6 months or a year before we finalize the diagnosis and start to make recommendations for treatment."