To Medicate or Not Medicate?

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    • #71590

      For those of you with children who have milder symptoms, how did you decide whether or not you should medicate? I know the answer may be personal and different for everyone who sees it, but I’m curious about your own thought processes and what you went through to make a “final” decision. (I only quote ‘final’ because I know things can change. 🙂 )

      Thanks for your insight!

    • #71594

      It was a very tough decision, one that somedays we regret, somedays we are so grateful for technology and medicine. However, as your child changes you realize it’s just a temporary means to an end…and in reality the ADHD will never end, its learning how to navigate parenting with it and truly understanding your child…the whole child and having realistic expectations. It wasn’t until I had changed his diet, used essential oils, tried other natural supplements and by 2nd grade with at least 1 major incident happening at school due to his impulsivity, I realized we owed it to him to seek out additional help. The key…is finding a very good child psychiatrist.ask around and pay out of the pocket if you have to. Trust me, it’s worth it…it’s what we more recently did and wish we would’ve sought out different doctors 2 years ago. You want a Dr. who understands children as well as who understands all your concerns, questions and one you can trust with their judgement. Yes…do your own research now on meds so that you are familiar with other options. This sight has been fantastic for that. But when I was physically and mentally exhausted of doing the “walk of shame” each day to pick up my son from school, and we realized that the dynamics within our home were tumultuous…that we owed him another chance. It hasn’t been easy and 2 years into using medication we have a new psychiatrist who my son likes and answers all our questions and concerns and we are hopeful that after trying 5 different meds and combinations that we will possibly find something that works for his beautiful mind. And realistically…we might not, but in the end have learned so much more about our amazing son, and are supporting him the best way possible. His brain is thanking us for it and seeing the clarity in thinking, conversation and improvement in split thinking judgement and decisions is confirmation we are doing the right thing for him. Good luck. Praying for you. It’s a long road, but remember you are doing it for your child. Do your research on meds that are out there. It’s empowering. Go to your CHADD local chapter…ours has had psychiatrists come in and talk about meds and it’s been so helpful.

    • #71616

      I was anti-medication for several years. When teachers, doctors, or health care professionals would even hint at medication I would immediately shut them down. And I tried everything – supplements; therapies; diet changes; etc. There always seemed to be a missing puzzle piece. Behaviors would improve, but never significant, I guess enough to give me some hope or cause to believe that medication wasn’t needed, I just needed to try something else.

      My husband helped finally open my ears enough to listen to the doctors. And luckily, we have a dang good (and patient) doctor. What finally made me realize that deciding to medicate was the right choice was about a month after starting the medication my son telling me he felt better on the medication; about 3 months after starting the medication him gaining an entire year worth of reading knowledge; 6 months after him starting him passing the state reading test unassisted; first him going an hour without having to excuse himself to the resource room because he was overwhelmed in the general education classroom – and then 2 hours – then half a day – then eventually a FULL day! Seeing all that intelligence explode out of him like it had been trapped inside not knowing how to get out.

      I didn’t know it was the right decision for my son until I tried it. For my son, it was the missing puzzle piece, not a fix all – just a piece. My advice would be to keep an open mind, do your research and speak to the experts.

    • #71887
      Penny Williams

      My son was very defeated and upset all the time. We had tried behavior modification and it wasn’t helping enough. We decided to try it because we were desperate to help him. That was 9+ years ago. It’s made such a big difference. Nothing’s perfect — it’s just one tool.

      A Patient’s Primer on the Stimulant Medications Used to Treat ADHD

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #73329

      I am not sure there is such a thing as “milder symptoms”. There is inattentive adhd which is many times described as milder because the child is not hyperactive. It is just as damaging to a child. Many times worse because it can go unnoticed and untreated. Also the age of the child or year is school is also important. Some kids because they are very intelligent can go through high school before the subject matter just gets too difficult. But that doesn’t mean that the anxiety or depression that often accompanies adhd is not there and slowly getting worse.
      I agree with all that was said above.

    • #73330

      There are a lot of factors to consider, and the decision should be revaluated as the child gets older and circumstances change.

      What is the situation like in school? A lot can depend on the teacher, can the teacher manage and teach the child effectively without medication. Some can and some can’t, a child who gets a teacher who can’t may lose a year of learning. What is learning like at school? It is a real struggle to pass, learn new concepts, achieve to potential, stay on task etc?

      What is behaviour like at school? Is the child being suspended a lot, at risk of expulsion, in trouble all the time?

      What about socially? Is the child making and keeping friends? What about emotionally?

      And how do you feel you can cope at home? With chores, homework, following instructions, sibling interactions and behaviour?

    • #73331

      New research is showing that ADHD children have 3 to 5 year delay in processing in some areas of the brain. EEGs show stimulant medication normalizes this lower brain activity. Those processing areas thicken during childhood. Then during puberty the unused areas of thin. Researchers are finding a 2% brain size difference in people with ADHD and 50% to 80% continue to have some ADHD disorders as adults. But people who were consistently treated with stimulant medication are not showing that size difference. For the first time there is the thought that stimulant medications not only immediately improve ADHD symptoms, they may result in long-term improvement on brain development. Just remember that by the time a child is diagnosed and put on medication, there are years of developmental delay and medication is not 100% curative. There are many other interventions still needed. Also be sure to find the correct dosage with a graduated approach and the help of others, especially the classroom teacher in evaluating the correct dosage. This can be done with a simple list of behaviors you are hoping will improve and a 1 to 10 rating scale.

    • #73332
      Ann Howrie

      Hi, my teenage daughter was diagnosed with ADHD combined type with comorbid social anxiety last year at the age of 15.3yrs. At that point she had not been to school for almost a year despite everything. Like most I had gone down the track of natural therapies and more without knowing what was wrong. Her school refusal was compacted with a huge friendship issue which I now believed spiralled her into depression as well. Half way through Year 10 (Australia) and she was still not at school despite changing schools and a few encouraging days at the beginning she again refused to go. I had researched medication and in a long discussion with a psychiatrist agreed to trial dexamphetamine and with a few changes to dose, it worked well. I was not hesitant really, I prayed that it would work and it has. Mind you a lot of ducks had to fall into place to get her back into school but it is working. I can see when the meds drop, to me it’s a life saver. She might not always be on them, but with a clinical psychologist she is learning organisational and study skills, she is socially accepting and now has a group of friends. She is entering her final two years of school this year and essentially has to catch up on the passed two years for which she has no results. Medication may not be for everyone and I am aware with younger children it might be more confronting. Every individual is different, unfortunately what I am learning with ADHD and the differences within it and between the sexes and the ages, is that it is truly a very individual ride. All I can say is don’t say no, have open discussions with your professionals and ask all the questions in the World, even the seemingly silly ones. Wishing you well

    • #73344

      I agree above that I don’t think there really is a milder ADD. I privately paid for both of my children to be assessed when they were 7… they are now 15 and 17. When they were each 13 I started asking them if they still wanted to be medicated and talked to them about what the pills did for them from their perspective. My 15 yr old said without them she feels fuzzy when she tried to do school work and at home she feels like she non stop talks ( it feels that way to us too😖) She has had the choice for 2 Years now and continues to take it EVERYDAY. My kids choose to take their pills 7 days a week and seem to be fine. My son at 17 has just decided to stop taking his. For him the pill gave him “a moral compass”. On days he didn’t take it he would be very mean sometimes even vicious to my daughter and would not show any remorse whatsoever. Over their years my kids have been learning about their ADD and we have been teaching them coping skills. After all the meds don’t FIX the issue, they just help level the playing field. Kids still need to learn how to improve their weaknesses like any other kid. Somewhere in my journey with them someone gave me a great perspective on medicating their kids. They said if your child was diagnosed diabetic and you didn’t believe it was real would you deny them medication to help them? If you’ve done any research at all you’ve often heard ADD us SO much more than not being able to pay attention. There are so many below the surface side effects to ADD that we don’t find out about until they tell us in their adult years. The other thing to keep in mind is that just because you decide to try meds doesn’t mean you can never go off of them. Have patience through the “ finding the right combination” part and give it 6 months, talk to your child about how it’s going and if it’s not working.. just stop. I hope this helps .. trust your gut and talk candidly with your child😁

    • #73346

      Hi. My son was diagnosed with ADHD at the end of grade 4 and I would say he seemed to be minor in his symptoms. My husband, who is a doctor, encouraged us to try medication even though I was somewhat reluctant. However, my son immediately noticed the improvement and said it was like having glasses for his brain. Suddenly everything came into focus for him. The meds aren’t perfect since there are some side effects like tummy aches and he says that it made him more shy than he already felt, but he is now graduating from high school at the top of his class! Because there were side effects we actually went through all the different ADHD drugs to see if something would be better and we ended back on the original medication. There were times that he want to try without the meds because he hoped that he had outgrown the need for them but he always concluded that he should be on them and that they helped him despite some of the side effects. He still needs support with organization and sometimes with motivation, but he is on a relatively low dose and it has done wonders for him. I would not be afraid to try and just see what happens. My friend, whose son is very much like my son, refused to medicate her son and planted many nasty seeds in her son’s mind about meds. When things became more difficult for her son at school they decided to try meds and all her son could do was talk about the downside of the meds. I am not sure if that is because the negative seed was planted or if meds honestly were not a fit for him, but now she is worried that he may not get through high school. Meds are not perfect, but they certainly helped my son and he could tell within a week that they were helping him to focus. I think you owe it to your child to try. Can you imagine having a vision problem and being refused the use of glasses? I know meds seem more dangerous because it is a chemical being put into your body, but if you are diabetic you would not resist taking insulin. I know that a doctor friend of my husband said that the ADHD stimulants are not that alien to our human bodies because they are not unlike adrenaline that we all have coursing through our bodies from time to time. Get a good doctor and they will try different meds on a very gradual basis and monitor your child throughout the trial period. Good luck. I remember how difficult the decision to try was and even how difficult it was when from time to time my son felt like trying something else because he was not thrilled about the side effects, but he is sure proud of himself now and says he will never go off of them again.

    • #73364

      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.

    • #73384

      I was a child with moderate ADHD symptoms and my parents chose to medicate me in middle school and high school. The medication was definitely helpful in managing my attention and impulsivity in school and probably is the reason I was able to graduate high school. HOWEVER, I was not also provided any type of therapy or self-management strategies so I was dependent entirely on the medication. Now as an adult, I feel completely ill-equipped to manage my ever-more-complicated life. I am a teacher and a mother of two, and since I have spent the last 3 years being either pregnant or breastfeeding, I am not willing to take medication. As a teacher, I see how transformative medication is for students with ADHD symptoms in the classroom. But I also know from my personal experience and from watching my students that medication can become a crutch if it is not accompanied by thoughtful teaching of self-management and behavioral therapy so that children learn to manage their symptoms.

      At the end of the day you are the parent and you know your child best. My children are still babies, so I’m just speaking from my personal experience. But, if I recognized ADHD symptoms in my children in the future, I would likely discuss concerns with their teachers to get a complete picture of how severe the symptoms were and how they were affecting my child’s ability to progress in school both academically and socially. If the symptoms were holding them back significantly in either of these areas, I would likely start medication and begin therapy at the same time. If not, I would try other measures first.

    • #73388

      We began medication in fourth grade after trying the least invasive methods possible (tri-pod chair, ball, moving to a space alone…) She fell off the chair first day, bounced on the ball and hated being singled out. She was so smart but sat under her desk making Folders for her paperwork during packet time (I hate packet time for so many reasons). We knew she would not able do the critical thinking that was necessary for her at a fourth grade level (where you are no longer learning to read but reading to learn). Medication was necessary to slow down her brain. I will say we had a mother who chose not to do medication and made her opinion well known. Flash forward four years later this same mother stated clearly…I should have-I always knew she could do the work and get the grades and this finally allowed her to do it.

    • #73397

      Medication is a very difficult decision. My son was diagnosed with ADHD in 1st grade. We were afraid of the medication even though we could see how he was struggling. Our doctor was very understanding and posed a question to us that led us to give the medication a try. “If you child was diabetic, would you withhold his insulin?” Medicating our son was the right choice. The dosage increased until he was in 4th grade. He is now a senior in high school and is on the same dosage as he was when he was 10. We have not taken an intentional break from the medication, because we want our son to be able to focus not only in school but in his activities. There was a day when our son was a junior that he forgot to take the medication. He called me from school after his first class and asked if I would bring it to him. Latter he told us that he realized how much the medication helps him focus and to be successful in school and other activities. We were lucky that the first medication we tried worked. If the first one doesn’t work for your child, don’t give up and work with your doctor to try something else.

    • #73407

      I am an educator and this is what my high school students with ADD/ADHD have shared with me:
      1) When ‘I’ am on my meds I can slow down enough to think. Without them I feel like I am moving and my brain is going so fast that I cannot keep up. I also feel so angry when I forget to take them.
      2) It helps me focus.

      As a teacher, I have really seen a difference in my students between on and off meds. Some students can function, but others really need that assistance to slow down their minds so that they can think and process. I always know when they have forgotten to take their meds as it seems that they are moving, and talking, in warp speed.

      I cannot say what is best for your child, but I would suggest giving them a try and see if it helps your child. Keep track of changes in behavior, mood and thinking skills. Sometimes even low doses are enough to help calm the brain so that students can function better, other times it requires a higher dose. As the other posts have stated, having a good relationship with your doctor and giving everything time is very important.

    • #73458

      I would say that after a long time trying everything else, the downsides to medicating were significantly less than the upsides. Although it took some time to find something that works for my son (11) in part because he also has anxiety which some meds seemed to trigger, we are now a much more peaceful household and he is a much happier kid. He is getting straight A’s at school, happy to go to school which has been an ongoing battle, and is able to articulate what’s going on when he starts to feel a fit of hyperactivity welling up. I want him to have long lasting friendships, do well at school, enjoy life. He wasn’t able to do those things consistently without medication and we weren’t able to do well in therapy because he was inconsistently able to participate. While nothing works exactly the same for each child, I would say if it’s going to improve their quality of life significantly then it is worth giving serious consideration. You can always stop if the improvements are not worth the downsides. For us the only downsides have been decreased appetite and some mild sleep disruptions, but letting him stay up an extra hour at night and being more careful about increasing fat content in his diet are a small price to pay for the changes I’ve seen. Good luck!

    • #73636

      We decided to medicate when my son’s symptoms were so extreme that he was constantly getting in trouble at school and home and we felt it was harming his self esteem. We decided to medicate when my daughter came home every day from school having no idea what she learned and I had to reteach her the lesson in order for her to do her homework. We decided not to medicate our other son because his symptoms were not interfering “enough” with his home or school life to make him unhappy or his teachers unhappy and he improved a lot with some simple behavioral organizational strategies. If symptoms are mild you can try fish oil capsules aimed at helping ADHD symptoms. There are no known risks and there are studies that show benefits especially in concentration.

    • #73651

      Hi, I am not a medical professional, but a mom and a teacher. I started teaching when Ritalin was “the medication.” I have now have 20 years of experience to speak from. I know from personal experience that having a disorder and not knowing or understanding is its own kind of hell. Think of things in this way: if your child is struggling, hates him/herself, says they’re stupid and exhibits issues in class–then why wouldn’t you see a doctor and consider medication as ONE option. Pills aren’t the only solution but there are newer medications that have helped children. If you are considering this route please share everything with your doctor including information input by the classroom teacher. Give your child the chance to be successful!

    • #73473


      I’m a pediatrician. I have ADHD and use pharmacological treatment. I was diagnosed while in medical school, but in retrospect, had symptoms way before.

      Here is my approach when it comes to children & teenagers.

      1) Are the ADHD/ADD symptoms causing a dysfunction? At school, and/or in home life?

      By dysfunction I mean impairment. People think dysfunction = handicap. So if the child does well at school, but you can’t go out in public with the child out of fear he will slip away from you and get lost, there is a dysfunction, period.

      The standard tests (such as the Vanderbilt surveys) essentially measure what I call dysfunction. If he is doing well at school, gets along with teachers and peers, is not an overly anxious child – he likely doesn’t need medications.

      2) Let’s flip your question. How does the child/teenager feel about his life? These forums are mostly based on parent’s responses.

      The mother may think the child is OK, but when I ask the patient… the answers change. I ask the siblings too and obtain great responses!

      If these symptoms start earlier in life, I rather treat so the child can actually focus on learning some of these coping mechanisms and strategies. Teenagers that were previously well often feel overwhelmed when challenged with new skills (such as oral reports, more homework, etc) and that’s when a cycle of anxiety forms.

      Awareness, organization, repetition, and structure DOES help. As an adult, it is what gets me through the day!

      Some children, teenagers and even adults can cope quite well with the symptoms but ONLY when they’re AWARE of ADHD. Cope = deal with difficulties. ADHD is like jogging with a group, only you have a heavy backpack! Medication takes the load off initially and helps with the brunt of symptoms. But trust me, these symptoms won’t go away. Awareness, organization, repetition, and structure are needed to cope.

      Phrasing this as a child with “mild ADHD symptoms” is a misnomer, because what I look for is dysfunction. Everyone can be anxious, fidgety and forgetful, especially when stressed. That’s not ADHD. These symptoms have to persist AND cause a dysfunction in more than one setting. If you have people convincing you that your child doesn’t need ADHD medication – he likely needs it.

      Lastly, let a trained clinician (pediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist) ask questions to the child directly, and you’ll be surprised at the responses.

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