Children's Relative Age and Medicine Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Across Australian Jurisdictions with Different School Enrolment Policies
Bruno, C.; Havard, A.; Hanly, M.; Falster, K.; Nassar, N.; Edwards, B.; Guastella, A.J.; Pearson, S.-A.; Zoega, H.
Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology 32(6): 349-357
ISSN/ISBN: 1557-8992 PMID: 35917527 Accession: 080161674
Background: Children who are relatively young for their school grade are more likely to receive treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is unclear whether the phenomenon also exists across Australia or is impacted by the school enrolment policy in place. Objective: We evaluated the association between children's relative age and initiation of ADHD medicines across Australian jurisdictions with different school enrolment policies and rates of delayed school entry. Methods: We used Australia-wide dispensing data for a 15% random sample of children 4-9 years of age in 2013-2017 to create a nationwide cohort. Due to high rates of delayed school entry in New South Wales (NSW), we used linked prescribing and education data for a cohort of NSW residents starting school in 2009 and 2012. We estimated incidence rate ratios (IRRs) for ADHD medicine across children's birth month, sex, and jurisdiction. We used asthma medicines as a negative control. Results: For girls, we observed a relative age effect in three out of five jurisdictions, with an IRR ranging from 1.3 to 2.8, comparing the youngest versus oldest birth month thirds. We observed more modest effects among boys, ranging from null to 1.5-fold. In NSW, the relatively youngest boys were less likely to initiate stimulant medicines than the oldest (IRR = 0.5, 95% confidence interval 0.29-0.78). We did not observe a relative age effect for initiation of asthma medicines. Conclusions: In jurisdictions with low rates of delayed entry, relatively young children were more likely to initiate ADHD medicines than their older classmates. We observed the inverse association in NSW where delayed entry was highest, likely reflecting the characteristics and needs of children who delay school entry for 1 year and become the oldest children in the grade. Increased awareness around children's maturity differences and school readiness may enhance appropriate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.