Managing Treatment

Why It’s OK (Even Good) to Question Your Child’s Doctor

Peter Jensen, M.D., shares his favorite survival strategies from parents who have learned the hard way how to work with doctors on an effective ADHD treatment plan.

A mother asking her child's doctor questions about ADHD
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Why Don’t Doctors Get It?

I can’t find a good doctor! No one will really listen to me. My doctor has her own opinions of what’s wrong and what we should do, but it doesn’t feel right for my child and my family.” I hear this too often from frustrated parents who report that it takes too long — on average, 5 years — to iron out treatment wrinkles after their child's ADHD diagnosis. For most families, this is too long — no child should have to suffer while parents and doctors struggle to work effectively together. Why does this happen?

[Free Download: 13 Questions to Ask Before Starting Any ADHD Medication]

Doctor looking up information on ADHD to better answer questions
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Doctors Are People, Too

I’ve learned during my time studying ADHD that it takes about 20 years for new science to get off the shelves and actually applied by doctors. Which means the techniques your doctor is using to address ADHD symptoms may be outdated! This is not because doctors are lazy, or unwilling to learn new information. It’s because they’re busy running a small business, and they may not have spare time to study up on new ADHD treatments and learn new skills — like how to use medication more effectively, or the latest behavior therapy techniques.

A doctor reviews a family's medication before school starts, a good way to start the year strong.
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What Can Parents Do?

The only way to really change this scenario is to arm parents with the latest information so they can go to their doctor as an ADHD expert, knowing the latest research and asking well-informed questions. Parents should never hesitate to ask, "Is this the best approach?" If the doctor can’t defend his opinion or gets angry at being asked, he’s not the doctor for you.

[The Full Range of Treatment Options for Children with ADHD]

A doctor filling out a questionnaire for a patient
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Questions Every Parent Should Ask

When you learn your child’s diagnosis, your mind races with a million questions. But many patients feel too intimidated to question the proposed treatment plan — they worry the doctor will be offended or feel distrusted. This isn’t true, and it shouldn’t stop you from asking these important questions:

1. How much experience do you have diagnosing and treating ADHD? How many children have you treated?

2. Have you taken any training sessions or gotten any other certifications in diagnosing and treating ADHD?

3. What treatments do you provide? If you don’t provide both behavioral and medication treatments, do you have close colleagues who you trust to provide the other treatments?

If you feel uncomfortable, try these questions on your spouse or a close friend first. Remember, as a parent, you are the most important decision maker — you deserve to know as much information as possible.

A young girl asking her doctor questions about her treatment plan
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What Matters Most?

Specific treatment plans can — and should! — vary by child, but most parents (about 4 out of 5) tell me that the most important thing is to find a doctor who loves your family, will work with you as a partner, and actually listens to and supports you. If your doctor doesn’t meet these criteria, go to your local CHADD group or check out ADHD forums online to ask other parents to recommend doctors who have worked well for their families.

[ADHD Medications Rarely Work Perfectly On the First Try]

A family going over the questions they want to ask the doctor
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Parents’ Favorite Treatment Plans

An overwhelming majority — 79 percent — of parents who have tried a combination of behavioral therapy and medication strongly recommend it to other parents. Good behavioral therapy involves the parents, too — so in addition to working with your child, the therapist should work with you to teach anger control techniques, positive parenting strategies, and anything else that can help you be a strong ally while your child learns how to manage his own symptoms.

Father and son discussing questions to ask the doctor at their next appointment
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Getting Inside your Child’s Heart

Beyond a good doctor, children with ADHD need their parents to provide love and bolster their self-esteem. You can say you love your child, but if your child doesn’t feel loved, that’s a critical problem. How do you help your child feel loved? The most important thing is to temper your criticism. Turn small mistakes into positive learning opportunities to help your child feel good about himself, learn to advocate for himself, and start to say, “Here’s what I’m best at."

Woman discussing with teen daughter what questions they should ask the doctor
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Parents’ Number One Goal

As his parent, you are your child’s champion — to the doctor, with the school, with your family, etc — because you know him best and love him the most. If you make your relationship with your child as positive and supportive as possible, you’ll become a better advocate for your child. If she hits the skids or encounters some difficulties, you’ll be able to comfort her, support her, and help her understand and obtain what she needs to achieve.

Father and son smiling together, discussing questions for their doctor
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Principles of Action for the Expert Parent

To be the best possible advocate for your child, parents should adhere to these core principles:

- You are in charge.

- You will not be intimidated.

- You are not responsible for your child’s illness.

- You know your child best.

Understand that you’ll make mistakes along the way. You’re only human, after all. But your child can succeed, and he can have a great life — when the family support is there, and when you love your child even when they’re difficult to love, the vast majority of our kids turn out pretty well.

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