Is There Any “Right” Age to Medicate?
Running into an old acquaintance in the produce aisle brought back all the difficult moments my daughter faced before I ultimately decided to treat her ADHD at seven years old.
I was wheeling my grocery cart through the produce section when I came face to face with Rita, a mom I hadn’t seen in over a decade, since our kids were together in elementary school.
“Jennifer…just the person I needed to see.”
She wasn’t exactly the person I wanted to see. Rita’s daughter had been the honors student…quiet, polite, and shy. I had the daughter with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) who struggled in school…loud, boisterous, and unable to sit still. I felt the judgment emanating from Rita’s face every time Lee lost control of her impulses. It’d made me feel like the worst mother in the world.
She motioned for us to move our grocery carts to the side of the aisle, and we squeezed between the strawberries and lettuce. In a low voice she said, “My brother has a three-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, who was diagnosed with ADHD. Her doctor’s an idiot. He wants to put her on medication! At least you waited until first grade with Lee, right?”
I gripped the grocery basket. Calm down, I thought. Rita doesn’t have a child with ADHD. She has no idea of what goes into the decision to medicate.
I thought back to elementary school when Lee was diagnosed with ADHD. What would it have been like if she had taken medicine before seven years old?
At three years old, Lee was in preschool. Circle time was prison time for a kid who couldn’t stay in one place for long. By her second year, she had fallen behind in her reading development, and felt dumb compared to the other kids. Would medication have helped her sit and learn?
Kindergarten wasn’t much better. One day, I was volunteering when the teacher made it clear that the students were NOT to call out a large capital “B” if they saw it hidden in the classroom. Two minutes later, Lee blurted it out. Tears slipped down her cheeks as the teacher gave her a lecture in front of the class. Would medication have helped her follow the teacher’s rule?
Her hyperactivity and impulsivity spilled over into social events, as well. At a friend’s fifth birthday party, Lee started a wrestling match with two boys, even after one of their moms pleaded with Lee to stop. I jumped into the melee and pulled her out, then took her home. She was furious, sobbing and yelling to go back. Would medication have helped curb Lee’s urge to tussle?
At seven years old, when Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, her doctor prescribed medication. I’d been wrestling with the idea for a long time, and the thought of giving it to Lee made me feel sick. But Lee was having such a hard time in every area of her life that I gave in. If only I had known what a difference medication would make in her behavior and focus, I wouldn’t have waited so long.
Before I had a chance to answer Rita, she said, “I told my brother to wait until Caitlyn was 10 or 12 before he considers medication. What do you think?”
You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. The effect of waiting that long would have destroyed my child’s self-esteem, and broken my heart. “I don’t think you can really judge by a child’s age if medication is appropriate or not. I think it depends on the child, the severity of the ADHD, and the impact it’s having on the child’s life. That’s a decision I think your brother wants to make with Caitlyn’s doctor,” I said.
She listened, but I could tell that her mind was already made up. After a few minutes impasse, we moved our carts apart and went our separate ways.
Later that day, I was cooking dinner and thinking about our conversation. Lee swept in the door and yelled out, “I’m home!” Loud and boisterous as ever. I smiled, thinking some things never change, even at 19 years old.
She moved into the kitchen, skidding to a stop by the fridge. “Lee,” I said, “…I have a question for you. What if you’d waited to take ADHD medication until the age of 10, or even 12? What would it have been like for you?”
Lee looked at me for a moment. Then she said, “Disaster. I would have fallen behind in school, gotten in trouble for all kinds of behavior I couldn’t help, and been unable to function.” She started to open the refrigerator, then turned back to face me. “ADHD is a big part of who I am, Mom. Medication makes it manageable.”
Words of wisdom spoken by one who knows.