Many parents of children with AD(H)D have come across this question. There seems to be a mix of research and myths that surround this issue that often make this choice very difficult to make. My mother was a nurse in Detroit, and thus had access to multiple doctor opinions. Those opinions, however, were limited in their usefulness as each situation, each child, each family, is different.
My childhood had a resume of drugs that I was taking (and not taking) that resembled a purchase order from a small pharmacy: Ritalin, Dexedrine, Aderall, and Concerta. Each coming in different release times, dosages, and form. The controlled substances had many side effects, some listed, some unlisted. The listed side effects were pretty standard: loss of appetite, mood swings, loss of sleep, and anxiety. The ones that were never mentioned ended up being the most challenging to me and my family.
I can remember the first time I was called down to the office. The secretary paged my class and asked me to come down to the office. I got to the office, took my (at the time we were flopping between Ritalin and Dexedrine, but I’m not sure which one I started with) medication and returned to class. Of course, as any teacher and student would tell you, the first thing my peers would do is ask me why I was called down to the office. I was in grade 4, I don’t even remember what made up answer I gave them; I knew I didn’t want people to know I was “disabled” (back in the early 90s, this was how I was labelled.)
I quickly told my parents how uncomfortable I was with being paged down. I told them that I felt embarrassed and didn’t like having to answer those same questions every day. A solution was presented; I would simply go down to the office under my own power as soon as lunch started. We didn’t know this at the time, but we now know that I have a memory disability as well. We did know, however, that I was a grade 4 student with AD(H)D. It was very easy for me to get distracted with something else, or to simply forget to go down –I was 9. So obviously, my parents and teachers got upset with me. I once read a journal article that explained how AD(H)D did not cause stressed relationships and interactions at home and school, but provided an opportunity for a catalyst for a negative situation. Stress at home is caused mainly by how people chose to react to this catalyst, and this was a perfect example. Looking back now, we can see that we needed a better solution then to rely on they child to make sure to take their stay-focused-medication.
Another catalyst came up when my parents found out that I was not eating my lunch. I ate huge breakfasts prior to taking my medication, and huge dinners when my medication was wearing off. We never did find a working solution to that, I just learned to hate lunch all throughout school.
Medication was always a hot topic at my house. I was on one med, my other brother was on a different dose, and later, my youngest brother would also be on it. It was another negative catalyst that my parents did eventually figure out, but it took time. It was one of those side effects that don’t appear on a bottle, but definitely should. “CAUTION, MAY CAUSE PARENTS TO USE MEDICATION AS A CRUTCH, BAND AID, AND FIX-ALL-DUCT-TAPE.”
Yes, my parents would do just that. If I forgot my books at school, they would ask: “did you take your medication today?” It was the go to question for everything I did wrong. As an adult, I now understand why they were asking, however, as a child, it made me mad and made me feel that my parents were trying to drug me to solve their parenting problems, rather than to address the problems themselves. I started to rebel against medication, refusing to take it, and sometimes cheeking my meds until I could spit them out. My parents would find them in the garbage and were now having to deal with accessible meds to an infant (my younger sister.) This was probably the biggest negative catalyst, and it took my parents years to figure out how to address it.
As I grew older, more mature, and switched to a less obsolete medication, I started to take my meds more often. Sometimes, a little too often. I started to get into drugs when I was in high school, but at the same time, I started to compete in swimming meets. I still to this day, have no clue what made me initially start this, but I did, nonetheless, start to take 2 to 4 times my dose. I found that with higher doses, my mind became more alert, my muscles became quicker, and I had much more energy. I would dose myself an hour before a swim meet, looking for a little bit of an edge. It was wrong, it was dangerous, and worst of all, no one knew.
Medication for AD(H)D is a big choice. You are dealing with a drug that is a controlled substance, that can be sold on the street, and that has many side effects. From my experience I believe that the biggest question is not whether or not the medication will negatively affect your child, but rather how ready are you to help your child to use this medication as an aid. After all, medication is not a solution, but merely another strategy to help your child adjust positively to having AD(H)D. Can you think “big picture?” Will your child take this medication for the rest of their life, or do you have an end game?