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How Young Is Too Young for an ADHD Diagnosis?

Of the 6.4 million U.S. kids already diagnosed with ADHD, almost one third were given their diagnosis before they reached the age of 6, a new CDC report has found.

ADHD highlighted in the dictionary Shutterstock
The rate of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been increasing an average of about 5 percent each year for more than a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And of the 6.4 million U.S. kids already diagnosed, almost one third were given the label before they reached the age of 6, a new CDC report has found. The report drew conclusions from the 2014 National Survey of the Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD and Tourette Syndrome.

Is that cause for concern? Maybe—because there are few valid diagnostic tests for kids that young. However, some experts believe the report's findings show positive trends as to how kids are being diagnosed.

The report notes that more than half of kids with ADHD were initially diagnosed by a family doctor or general health physician; of those diagnosed before age 6, just a quarter were given the diagnosis by a psychiatrist. (Younger kids were more likely to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist than older kids, who were more commonly diagnosed by a psychologist.) Still, researchers found that health care providers used rating scales consistent with diagnostic guidelines for nine out of ten children across all age groups, which indicates that doctors aren't making hasty diagnoses.

Related: Diagnosed With ADHD: What You Need to Know

ADHD symptoms include being fidgety, making careless mistakes, and having a hard time resisting temptation, among numerous others. These symptoms also persist while in different environments—like at school, at home, and with friends.

"Since many of the hallmark traits of ADHD can resemble typical behavior from a young child, it's important for the disorder to be properly recognized, diagnosed and treated to determine when that line is crossed," said lead author Susanna Visser, M.D., an epidemiologist with the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC.

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

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