Reply To: To Medicate or Not Medicate?

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It’s a huge decision but we are so happy that we decided to try it with our daughter. She was diagnosed with ADHD (impulsive / hyperactive) in the fall of 3rd grade. Academically, socially, emotionally, she was OK, with a fair amount of support at school, with a tutor, and with us at home. She is a happy kid, willing to work hard and doing reasonable well. So we were completely opposed to trying medication when she was first diagnosed, seemed like a risk that she didn’t need to take. Over time I kept looking at the list of things the neurologist suggested we could do for her, and we were already doing virtually all of the behavioral things (accommodations at school, adjustments to assignments and homework routine). I started to wonder what it would be like if she were not just OK, but really able to enjoy school, do more than just survive the school year and then spend the summer catching up and preparing for the fall. We decided to test a stimulant med over the xmas break, first to make sure no bad side effects, and then to see if any benefit for her ADHD symptoms. She didn’t experience any negative side effects, and over the break we could not see any difference, which was expected since her issues were primarily in the academic setting. When she returned to school, her teachers noticed immediately that she was able to focus and engage, less hyperactivity (we had given her homeroom teacher a heads up but the others could tell even without our mentioning it). It seems to allow her to filter out the background noise and distractions. She’s able to concentrate, quiet her body, and actually learn. She sees the positive effects on her grades and from the feedback from teachers, but she doesn’t feel any different when she takes the medication.
So, now she’s in the 6th grade. Every year her academic progress has improved and she’s been able to work more independently. She’s gained a lot of confidence from knowing that she’s figuring out how she learns best and putting that into action. She joined the robotics team last year and after weeks of developing and testing her vehicle she won a competition. She is active in class and has a group of close friends who accept her for her wonderful self. We’re open and honest with her regarding her ADHD diagnosis, her learning differences, and the medication. She knows that her ADHD is not an illness, it’s just how her brain and body work, and she is taking the meds because they allow her to focus and learn (rather than medication for an illness).
We are very cautious about medications, having both worked in research and development at a biotech company. She is on the lowest dose of a medication that has been taken by millions of kids, and the time release formulation seems to get her through the day at school. Last year we increased the dose for a time when it seemed like it was wearing off before the end of her academic day, however we reduced it back to the lower dose over the summer and kept it there this year. She doesn’t always take her medication on the weekend, depending on what homework and other activities are happening. We have found that some social situations (a large wedding for example) can exacerbate her ADHD symptoms, so occasionally she will take medication if that comes up. When we forgot a dose, she was able to get through most of the school day just fine. But by 1-2pm she was completely exhausted, so we know the medication is definitely helping her.
So we are grateful that we found a medication that has worked for her. I can’t stress enough that the best approach has been to keep up on the behavioral stuff (checklists and visual reminders, timers, work in short chunks with lots of breaks), the good diet, getting enough physical activity, as well as the medication. I would not want to only do the medication without all of the other things.