Don't Label This Child

Annual re-evaluations important for children diagnosed with attention disorders
June 1, 2010

Many elementary-school children with clinically elevated attention problems in one grade no longer demonstrate these problems the following year in their new classroom, according to a study led by Duke researchers.

The findings underscore the importance of annually re-evaluating children diagnosed with attention disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to avoid treating them for problems at school that may no longer be evident, says David Rabiner Ph.D. '87, A.H.C. '87, lead author of the study and professor of psychology and neuroscience.

The study looked at two groups of elementary-school children, one consisting of students who had been rated as highly inattentive by their teachers, but who were not formally diagnosed with ADHD, and one group that had the ADHD diagnosis. After about a year, the students were re-evaluated.

For each group, clinically elevated ratings persisted for less than 50 percent of the children, while between 25 percent and 50 percent had ratings that declined to the normal range. Roughly 30 percent of children who demonstrated at least six symptoms of inattention, as rated by their teachers, during the first year showed no symptoms the following year. These declines could not be attributed to their taking medication, according to the report.

The authors said the study was not designed to determine why teacher reports of attention problems decline substantially for many children or to contest the legitimacy of ADHD but rather to examine whether inattention varies from one school year to the next.