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Parental Intervention in School, Academic Pressure, and Childhood Diagnoses of ADHD

February 19, 2021

Jayanti Owens recently wrote, "Parental intervention in school, academic pressure, and childhood diagnoses of ADHD" which delves into the dramatic increase in childhood diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the U.S. in recent decades.

Childhood diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have increased dramatically in the U.S. in recent decades. Prior research has alluded to the possibility that high levels of parental intervention in school are associated with increased diagnoses of ADHD, but this relationship remains understudied. Are the children of intervening parents more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD? Is parental intervention in school more strongly linked to children's later ADHD diagnoses when children have more severe pre-diagnosis behavioral problems and/or when they are exposed to strict educational accountability policies at school? 

In this study, I investigate these questions. In analyzing longitudinal, population-level data from 9,750 children followed through elementary school as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort of 1998–99, I find that a one standard deviation increase above the mean on parental intervention in school is associated with a 20% increase in the odds of ADHD diagnosis among elementary school children. This relationship is robust to differences in children's pre-diagnosis behavioral problems, academic achievement, parental knowledge of/exposure to ADHD, and school selection, and can arise because parents who intervene in school on average exhibit heightened sensitivity to behavioral problems and academic pressure from accountability-based educational policies. In light of prior work establishing both social class and racial/ethnic differences in parental intervention in school, this positive relationship between parental intervention in school and children's diagnoses of ADHD may carry important implications for the production of inequality in children's mental health and educational opportunities.