Hispanic and African American children are half as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their Caucasian counterparts, new research suggests.

The finding, published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that minority children are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, and because of this miss out on the correct treatment options that may alter the child’s development.

Over the last 10 years, rates of ADHD have risen by 24% – it is estimated to affect roughly between 4% and 12% of school-aged kids in the US.

Paul Morgan, who led the study at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, told Reuters Health:

“We’re seeing that the disparities occur as early as kindergarten and then remain and continue until the end of eighth grade. It’s a consistent pattern of what we’re interpreting as comparative underdiagnosis for minority populations.”

Additionally, the research showed that minority kids who were diagnosed with ADHD were less likely to be prescribed medications than white kids. These medications include:

  • Ritaline
  • Concerta
  • Vyvanse

The researchers followed 15,100 children from the kindergarten class of 1998-1999 using regular parent surveys. At each time surveyed – kindergarten, first, third, fifth, and eighth grades – Caucasian kids were most likely to have ADHD. Over time, all races exhibited the same pattern with new diagnoses, with the highest incidence occurring at third grade.

By the end of eighth grade, 7% of white children had an ADHD diagnosis, compared to 3% of African American kids, and 4% of Hispanic kids.

Other elements did not explain the differences including:

  • mother’s age at birth
  • family income
  • teacher’s reports of individual child behavior and learning

Factors that reduced a child’s risk of an ADHD diagnosis included being attentive with learning-related behaviour, greater academic achievement, and not having health insurance.

Children who are diagnosed with ADHD are able to have access to certain adaptations and extra help in school. This lack of help in children who go undiagnosed can cause depression and anxiety as they get older.

ADHD often continues into adulthood; children with the disorder are at an increased risk for other psychiatric conditions later in life.

The authors encourage increased awareness and questioning by health care providers, teachers, and school psychologists in order to guarantee minority children are getting the right diagnosis and access to available care, including medication or specialized learning programs.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald