Should I medicate or NOT medicate my child’s ADHD? Answer: Yes

When we were going through the Child Study process and Autism diagnosis with Benji, one of the steps was to “test” for ADHD.

I put “test” in quotes because diagnosing ADHD is not a test, per se. Rather, the diagnosis is based on observations and meeting certain behavior criteria.

We got a Parent form and two Teacher forms from the developmental doctor at the Autism Center and my husband and I answered 55 questions. Here are a few examples:

Avoids, dislikes, or does not want to start tasks that require ongoing mental effort
Is forgetful in daily activities
Is “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
Interrupts or intrudes in on others’ conversations and/or activities”
Is fearful, anxious or worried
Blames self for problems or feels guilty
Rate relationships with peers (1-5)

His regular ed and special ed teachers filled out these forms too.

We turned them in our doctor but they kind of got lost in the middle of the Autism diagnosis and we decided to focus our attention on therapies to help Benji’s Autism challenges.

But while we were going through the questionnaire for Benji, I turned to Aaron and said, “Seriously, Micah (Benji’s twin brother) seems to have more of these issues than Benji does.”
My husband agreed.

But we needed more “proof.” One of the criteria for diagnosing ADHD is that it has to manifest itself in two settings, like home and school. So I printed off a general list of “symptoms” from good ol’ Google and took it to our parent teacher conference at the beginning of the year.

We sat in small plastic chairs at a low table. I pushed the paper over to Micah’s teacher, a very experienced educator with a special education background. “I was wondering, are you seeing any of these behaviors in the classroom?”

She quickly perused the list, smiled a little, looked up at us and said, “Yes.” She then explained that she adored him as a person and loved him as her student. But we knew, as well as she did, that he was getting in trouble on a daily basis for impulsive behaviors.

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The day Micah got a Character Award at school

He would come home, crestfallen because he “lost another letter” that day at school. It became a daily announcement. When I would gently ask him what happened and why he acted the way he did, he just looked at me, wide-eyed and baffled at his own behavior, “I don’t know.”

So, I made an appointment with our pediatrician and we filled out the same forms for Micah that we had for Benji.

In addition to turning in the parent and teacher questionnaires, Micah also had a physical, a hearing test, and an eye test, just to rule out any physical challenges. He was healthy and could see and hear perfectly.

Our pediatrician agreed that Micah definitely showed strong tendencies of attention deficit disorder, as well as hyperactivity.

Next, we scheduled an hour-long, two parent consultation with our doctor about “options.”

The million dollar question was, of course, “How do you feel about medication?”

The whole diagnosis process took about a month, so I had been contemplating this question for about this long…in reality, probably longer.

For a long time, I didn’t really know how I felt about medication. Like a lot of people, I thought ADHD was primarily the combination of strong-willing (naughty?) kids and poor parenting.

And I “treated” my son…and myself accordingly.

But disciplining my son more or even trying creative and alternative approaches didn’t work.

So I looked for other solutions:

More exercise provided a momentary outlet but didn’t help his insatiable energy levels long term (I wished I had a recording of myself hollering “STOP WRESTLING GO RUN AROUND THE HOUSE!”).

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Taking out artificial dyes and greatly reducing sugar in his diet didn’t do anything.

Essential oils helped him to focus on homework some days, but not on others.

Nothing helped him with other challenges:
Listening (I often wondered about his hearing!)
Following multi-step directions (sometimes completing one-step directions was impossible without 4-5 reminders)
Forgetfulness
An inability to play by himself
Ordering his thoughts and speech into coherent communication

These may seem like small issues but, when taken all together, every day, in simply trying to communicate simple directions (let alone having meaningful conversation) the impact was crushing because healthy communication often felt impossible.

But even more than all these exasperating behaviors was the fact that I knew that our relationship was suffering because I was so frustrated.

I confessed as much to our doctor, embarrassed and ashamed.

And his response hit me in the gut.

“Sometimes medicating ADHD is better than screaming at your child all the time.”

He’s right. I thought. Because that’s me.  What we’re doing is NOT working. Something needs to change.

I was trying to do all the right things. I was trying to be patient and loving and give him a healthy, happy childhood. But I had reached the end of myself.

Our relationship was failing. Not because I was a failure as a parent or because he was a failure as an 8 year old boy, but because we needed to address his very real mental challenges with new solutions.

So after much research, many conversations, prayer, consulting with our doctor, and considering what was the Best Thing for Micah and our relationship with him, we decided to fill the prescription.

I’m glad we did.

The medication didn’t turn him into a zombie or change his personality. Instead, it helps bring his state of being down a few notches: Instead of operating on a scale of 8-10 on a daily basis, the medication brings him down to a reasonable 5-7 range.

He and Benji still wrestle, but when I tell them to stop, they stop (most of the time). The manic I-must-slam-my-body-into-something-or-someone is tempered.

When Micah comes home from school every day, the first thing he tells me is this: “No letters lost today!” And he smiles, proudly.
IMG_4389The most significant aid the medication gives him is his ability to capture and order his thoughts and words, to listen and follow instructions, and to be able to attend to a conversation for a productive length of time.

I can actually tell when the medication is wearing off in the evenings (it wears off daily. It is not an addictive substance), mostly because his speech transforms into one non-sequitur after the other. His ability to follow directions (put your shoes away) crumbles too.

Other than a reduced appetite at lunch (at breakfast and dinner he is a hearty eater),  a few days of disrupted sleep the first week he took the meds, and a bit of evening moodiness every now and then, there have been no other side effects.

Medicating our son’s ADHD was not a simple or easy solution. In fact, the way our health insurance works right now, it is crazy-expensive (over $5 per day).

The medication doesn’t replace the discipline, training, redirecting, love and patience he needs every day. It doesn’t control my son or replace good parenting practices.

But treating my son’s ADHD with medication helps me to have a better relationship with him on a daily basis. The end result is more love for this precious boy I’ve been given.

And love is always worth it in the end.

This isn’t the end of the story. Remember those forms we filled out for Benji’s ADHD? We just revisited his diagnosis…with a very different decision.

To be continued…

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you.
TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know? If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

11 Comments

  1. I am honestly shocked you would medicate him. I would try a gluten free diet first. Maybe I am just really crunchy but I have several friends who were mediated for adhd and they all hated it as adults. They all said at one point they had to come off the medication as well because they didn’t want to do it for life. Also, when do I reduced sugar for my daughter and no food coloring at all, you have to do it for 3 months for it to get out of their system. Medication is a cop out, a way for you to give your child drugs and pat yourself on the back that you are doing something for him. Plus you spend this while article basically trying to justify it to yourself and to us. You gave your child drugs to deal with adhd. Drugs that you can see “wear off” and are not “addictive”. Drugs that “control his impulses”. Drugs that will get into his body and change him. And he will notice. Ask youself: do you want your child to be on drugs for the rest of his life??

    • Nancy, I can see you feel strongly about this and would probably make a different decision if you were in my shoes. However, we made the best decision for our child after many months of deliberation (not just the month of the testing). This is not a “life decision” for us. It is a “right now” decision. We are keeping the lines of communication open on a regular basis with our son, about what helps him, how he feels physically and emotionally. He is completely on board and feels like this is a good decision for him too.

      It is hard to see other perspectives at times, when people make different decisions that you would make, but I would urge you to strive for kindness and love when confronting a decision that is different than the one you might make for your child.

  2. Erica Geffken

    Thank you for sharing the intimate details of this journey and your decision with us faithful readers. I appreciate you contributing your thoughtful voice to this issue.

    • Thank you Erica! This is a tough issue to write about. My hope is to encourage parents to do the best thing (whatever that looks like) for their children.

  3. Jessica

    Coming from the point of view of working in a pediatric therapy clinic I will say this, I have seen several families see great results with changing diet, natural and holistic approaches and using strategies learned in occupational therapy to combat ADD/ADHD with success. However I have also seen families try everything under the sun for years to avoid medication and when they finally decided to give it a go it was the first time they saw amazing changes. Medicine has its place and no parent should feel shame for going that route. I hope other families struggling with this will read this and understand that sometimes every natural approach under the sun won’t work and in the end doing what’s best for your child is the only thing that matters. And just because you start medication doesn’t mean you can’t revisit no medication down the road. I wish much continued success for your son💛

  4. Laurel J

    Maybe the best part is that he feels so much better about himself and pleased with his improvement at school. You know that Lukas also takes medication for his ADHD, and it makes our lives so much better. Not because we do not make efforts to be good parents and this is an easy way out. But Lukas would not be able to function correctly at school without it, and therefore he would dread school, do poorly, and get in trouble all the time, instead of being a great student. Also, if he and Erik are playing upstairs together, I can also “hear” the meds wearing off in the way that he interacts with his brother differently with and without the meds. He is much kinder with them. We are also trying something new tonight: melatonin for falling asleep. So far so good for the first night.

    • Yes, this is exactly right. He feels more confident at school because he isn’t getting in trouble every day. That alone makes it worth it (and we have had other benefits too!). Thanks for reading, Laurel! I hope the melatonin helps too!

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