Diagnosing Young Children

A new study suggests that the DSM-IV evaluation of AD/HD is reliable, even in young children.

Monday January 17th - 12:00am

Can we diagnose AD/HD in children as young as 4? Some critics complain that professionals are too eager to diagnose AD/HD when examining behavior that is normal in a young child. Making the right diagnosis for behavior problems is essential to assure that a child gets the right - and not unnecessary - treatment.

To measure the accuracy of AD/HD diagnosis in young children, psychiatrists focused their microscopes on their own diagnostic tools. They scrutinized the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), which lists the criteria for diagnosing psychiatric ailments like AD/HD.

The researchers checked 255 children who had been diagnosed with AD/HD using the DSM-IV up to three years earlier. All of the children were between ages 4 and 6 at the time. The researchers used the DSM-IV to diagnose them again. Nearly all the children in the study qualified as having AD/HD.

They also compared these children to others without AD/HD in the same age group. The comparison showed that the diagnosed children were impaired in their schoolwork or at home, even when they had the same intelligence level or demographic characteristics as other children.

Writing in the November 2004 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers said that, because the diagnosis was consistent across time, and impairment was found independently of the diagnosis, the DSM-IV evaluation of AD/HD is reliable, even in young children.

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