Objective: Policymakers, federal agencies, and researchers have called for more in-depth investigation of contextual mechanisms that may explain differences in medication use among youths with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Method: We conducted qualitative interviews with 28 families from varied socioeconomic and racial/ethnic and linguistic backgrounds regarding diagnostic and treatment trajectories for their children with symptoms consistent with ADHD, with a particular focus on whether and how medication use became a part of the trajectory.
Results: Four longitudinal patterns of help-seeking trajectories emerged: (1) a pattern characterized by delay to diagnosis, common among youths with complicated clinical and/or environmental pictures or primarily inattentive ADHD symptoms; (2) an initial nonmedication treatment pattern in which parents at first chose to use other modalities of treatment; (3) a reluctant receipt of an ADHD diagnosis and/or treatment pattern, mainly seen among the low-income, Spanish-speaking families; and (4) a rapid engagement in medication use pattern, characterized by directed movement to and maintenance of medication use. These patterns resulted from a dynamic interplay of explanatory models regarding the cause, course, and cure of a child's problems; the influence of extended social networks; and factors previously examined in medical utilization models. Additional themes included (1) parents' need for more information about ADHD, (2) families' desire for additional mental health and school services making medications less necessary, and (3) the importance of cultural sensitivity and a longitudinal relationship between the caregiver and clinician to enhance communication between families and clinicians.
Conclusions: These findings deserve further study in a larger, more diverse sample.