Are Increased Academic Demands At Root of Rise in ADHD?

Increasing academic demands made upon children may provide one explanation as to the increase in diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) over the last three decades.

Jeffrey P Brosco, MD, PhD, professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and colleagues investigated educational and public policy articles for studies that examined the amount of time children spent on academic activities. Brosco said he was “alarmed” to find how much academic standards had changed through the 1970s.

“From time spent studying to enrollment rates in pre-primary programs, everything had increased, and not surprisingly, in the past 40 years we also saw ADHD diagnoses double,” Brosco said in a statement.

The team found that from 1981 to 1997, time spent teaching 3- to 5-year-olds letters and numbers increased 30%. They also discovered that the percentage of young children enrolled in full-day programs increased from 17% in 1970 to 58% in the mid-2000s, the researchers reported in JAMA Pediatrics. Also, in 1997, 6- to 8-year-olds’ time spent on homework was more than than two hours a week. Ten years earlier, they were spending less than an hour studying.

Although ADHD is neurobiological in nature, Brosco noted it is impacted by age-dependent behaviors and environmental demands. Due to more time spent on academics, there is less time for playing. This, he argues, has resulted in some children being seen as outliers, and ultimately, being diagnosed with ADHD.

“We feel that the academic demands being put on young children are negatively affecting a portion of them,” Brosco said. “For example, beginning kindergarten a year early doubles the chance that a child will need medications for behavioral issues.”


Brosco JP and Bona A. Changes in Academic Demands and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Young Children. Research Letter. JAMA Pediatr. 2016; doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.4132.