Context: Increases in diagnosis and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have elicited public and professional concern. Research suggests that this trend warrants the inclusion of previously underdiagnosed children and adults. It is not clear whether this trend includes young children.
Objective: To identify patterns of diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in very young children over time.
Design: Descriptive study of Michigan Medicaid claims data.
Patients: Inclusion criteria included recorded ADHD diagnosis, continuous Medicaid eligibility during a 15-month period, and age 3 years or younger at the first date of service.
Main outcome measures: Diagnoses of ADHD, conditions commonly comorbid with ADHD, other chronic health conditions, and injuries; treatments such as psychological services and psychotropic medication; and the number of ambulatory visits.
Results: We identified 223 children aged 3 years or younger diagnosed with ADHD. Many had conditions commonly comorbid with ADHD (44%), other chronic health conditions (41%), and injuries (40%). More than half received psychotropic medication (57%); fewer received psychological services (27%). Twenty-two different psychotropic medications were used. Patterns included more than 1 psychotropic medication (46%) in 30 combinations of simultaneous use and 44 combinations of sequential use. The mean number of ambulatory visits was 18.
Conclusions: Children aged 3 years or younger had ADHD diagnosed and received markedly variable psychotropic medication regimens. Little information is available to guide these practices. The presence of comorbid conditions and injuries attests to these children's vulnerability. Resources must be identified that will enable physicians to better respond to the compelling needs of these children and their families.