To Medicate or Not To Medicate
Many parents struggle so hard with this decision when they get the diagnosis of ADHD for their child. The question is a rather controversial one. Are ADHD medications good for children? It’s a big debate. Here’s the thing, all medications have side effects. That’s only one factor to consider. The other factor that really needs to be seriously thought about is that it often takes years to find out exactly what’s wrong with someone based on some symptoms. This applies to both adults and children but, with kids, you don’t necessarily know all of the symptoms right away. And you could find yourself in a position where the ADHD meds could make things a whole lot worse.
Is It Really ADHD?
Do the doctors and pediatrician’s know for sure that your child suffers from ADHD and that all of their symptoms are solely caused by the ADHD? No. I promise you they can’t possibly know that. They go off of a “safe to assume” type of decision based on parental complaints, surveys, teacher questionnaires, and the list of symptoms presented to them…usually. We have been managing my son’s ADHD for 5 years now. Some people tell me, “He couldn’t possibly be ADHD, he’s so well behaved!” Okay, first, he IS not ADHD. He has a disorder, but he is my son. He is who I named him. Secondly, he’s well behaved because he has a good mom.
We started medicating my son at 3 years old. We did so because he was violent, destructive, and impulsive which is a very dangerous combination. He could not function in a school setting and was looking at getting expelled from pre-school. But…hindsight is 20/20. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it. Although, had I not done it, I’m not sure we would have figured everything out. Everything happens for a reason. My son has epilepsy. The ADHD is secondary to the epilepsy…meaning the symptoms are caused by the epilepsy. It just so happens that ADHD medications trigger seizures in people with seizure disorders.
My son quickly went from having ADHD to having ADHD, sensory integration or sensory processing disorder, narcolepsy, to epilepsy. It got pretty darn scary there for awhile. He started sleep walking and making funky noises in his sleep which just creeped me out! I would wake up in the morning and find him asleep on the cold tile floor in the kitchen. Or I’d find him in the middle of the night sitting on the couch making sound effects while sound asleep sitting straight up. Scary times.
Medication vs. Behavior Therapy
I mentioned my son is well behaved. This is a touchy subject with me because my son has been mistreated by a few different teacher’s now because his symptoms have been mistaken for behavior issues. My son has a neurological disorder which causes him to struggle with staying on task and keeping focused. His inability to do so does not indicate a badly behaved child. Now…that being said, if he was throwing things, yelling, screaming, hitting, kicking, throwing fits, talking back, being disrespectful, etc., etc. … I would say yeah…my son has behavior problems. But he doesn’t. He knows better. Okay, that was my rant for the day, back on track here…
It is important for parents to understand the difference between a symptom and a behavior. I think that’s where a lot of things get confused. Bad behaviors should not be tolerated by parents and excused based on the fact that the child has ADHD. Bad behaviors should be corrected no matter what. Think about it, as an adult, society does not excuse bad behavior based on an ADHD diagnosis. If I throw a temper tantrum and punch a cop, I’m going to jail… if I survive. Children need to be taught to conform to the laws and rules no matter what their disability is.
Symptoms should be worked with but not considered bad behaviors. Symptoms are things that a child cannot help. People with Tourette’s Syndrome have tics. The tics are a symptom, they cannot be helped. Throwing a temper tantrum is a behavior…a decision is made to do it and it can be stopped and started at will. This is some of the stuff that behavior therapy works on. You teach a child ways to behave. You teach them coping mechanisms for the behaviors that may be influenced by their disabilities as opposed to shoving pills down their throats as an automatic fix.
My son has been off of ADHD meds for a little over a year now and other than being off task, trouble focusing, and sometimes a bit hyper, he’s doing fantastic. His mom started teaching him when he was young how to cope with symptoms and how to control his behavior. Now, at 10 years old, he’s able to tell himself to take a deep breath and relax when he starts feeling a little out of control. And he does so without having to be prompted. Pills didn’t do that. Mom’s behavior therapy did. Mom couldn’t afford all of the therapists and specialists over the years so he never received official behavior therapy. I’m sure if he did, maybe he’d be a little more organized today or a little better at staying on task. But it’s alright because he’s off of the drugs and he’s doing wonderful. Good parenting goes a long way.
What Do Studies Show?
I read an article today that talks about the old study that was done two decades ago on ADHD medications for children. As I read it I just sat here shaking my head. They figured out that you can pop a pill and focus all of a sudden so they started pushing drugs out to all these kids. Sure, they thought about the consequences such as stunted growth and sleeping problems, but the benefits of the drugs were more important. Now they’re finding out that behavior therapy is more effective as ADHD drugs. At the end of the article, you find out why, skill building is taught with behavior therapy and is a whole lot more useful than symptom reduction which is what drugs are for. It makes perfect sense now.
The reason I’m shaking my head: until I read this article, I didn’t know there was behavior therapy for ADHD children. Why did I not know this? He was diagnosed with ADHD 7 years ago. Never once was behavior therapy mentioned to me. The pediatrician said “stimulants”, the occupational therapist said “meds”, the sleep specialist said “Adderall”. For 5 years I was led to believe that medications were my only option. All the while they were exacerbating my son’s epilepsy. It took a neurologist to tell me stop with the meds.
Why Do I Care?
Because. Here’s the thing, and the article mentions it, the unintended consequences from that study that pushed meds are that the schools didn’t get the funding to give these kids the proper assistance that they need in a classroom setting. I was gritting my teeth as I typed that. My son needs help in the classroom and that’s the one place I can’t be to help him. But the school’s can’t do it either now. Just one month ago I asked the school principal if we could get my son a math tutor. “Our school doesn’t have tutors.” Really? My son could use an aid in the classroom to keep him on task and make sure he’s really learning the lessons because we don’t know if he’s listening to the teacher or having an absence seizure while she’s teaching. All we know is that when it comes time for him to do the work, he gets in trouble because he doesn’t know how to do it.
The result is, a frustrated teacher that has given up and said, “I just can’t teach this kid,” a child that has given up because no matter how hard he tries he just can’t seem to stay on task…or in his words, “I just can’t do anything right this year,” and a highly frustrated parent that has no idea what to do now. Somehow, some way, we have to find a way to get something changed in the system so that our school can effectively teach our children.
Bottom line: stop pushing the meds and start teaching the kids how to cope with the systems and work around their disabilities. I have ADHD. I have never been managed by medication. My physician prescribed it to me one time and I quit it after 3 weeks because I didn’t want to lose my job. It made me a zombie. I have learned to work on important tasks when I’m hyper…because I hyper focus and get it done. I’ve learned to tweak my behaviors so that they are most beneficial to me. I talked about this a little bit in my article on ADHD symptoms in adults. Stop pushing the meds. Do your research and find what will be most beneficial to you and your children. Remember that medication is not a substitute for good parenting.
Got your own story to tell? Did I push a button? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.