7 Important Factors When You Are Considering Medicating Your Child With ADHD
To medicate, or not to medicate—that’s the question many parents of children with ADHD face. The decision isn’t easy. Though some argue that we wouldn’t deny a type 1 diabetic child insulin, so why would we deny a child with ADHD a stimulant, the reality is that choosing medication isn’t as easy as one, two, three.
Stimulants are complicated. A child with ADHD requires the right med, at the right time, with the right dose, in order to be potentially successful. There are many meds and doses to choose from. Thus, choosing to medicate can take weeks, if not months or years, of trial and error. Yes, this is expensive and time-consuming. How does a parent know whether or not to try medication for their child with ADHD?
If medications have been successful for many people with ADHD, why are parents so hesitant? Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City, shares that there’s a stigma that often stems from parents’ insecurities. We can think our child is “out of control,” and feel guilty that perhaps our child’s ADHD is a result of our “poor parenting.” However, Dr. Hafeez says, “If you can honestly say you have a full assessment and have tried other proven measures, then medicating your child may be a viable option for his well-being.” Here are some further considerations:
Figure out how much ADHD is affecting the child’s life.
Dr. Hafeez says that this includes both how the child’s doing at home and how they are doing at school. After all, many of our kids spend seven hours a day, five days a week, in the educational environment. Consider the child’s grades. Are they declining? A caveat. Dr. Hafeez warns that a child diagnosed with ADHD could have an undiagnosed learning disability. According to her, there’s a “huge overlap.” Don’t let your child (and sometimes, your entire family) continue to suffer if things aren’t going well.
Ask yourself how much you’ve adapted your parenting.
I’ve argued many times that a child with ADHD cannot be parented the same way a child without ADHD is parented. Have you changed your parenting to meet your child’s needs? I highly recommend books like The Explosive Child, The Yes Brain, and The Whole-Brain Child. Learn how the ADHD brain works, what motivates your child, what triggers your child, and also what type of ADHD your child has. There are three types. Trust me. You can’t just dig your heels in. You’ve got to adapt. This doesn’t mean you’re a permissive or passive parent. Instead, it means you’re parenting in a way that your child needs to be successful.
Examine your child’s educational plan.
If your child has ADHD that profoundly affects their access to an education equal to that of their peers, your child may qualify for a 504 or IEP. ADHD can fall under the OHI category–other health impairment–of disabilities. A 504 lays out accommodations the child is entitled too. These might include access to fidget toys, extra time on tests, reduced homework, testing in a quiet environment, and more. An IEP includes accommodations and services, such as therapies or special education classes. If the plan is solid and resources are tapped out, medication may help your child be more successful, shares Dr. Hafeez.
Consider what your child wants.
When kids reach a certain maturity level, they should have a say in the medication option. How do they feel now? How might they feel if they take a medicine to help them improve their focus, decrease their hyperactivity, and do better in school? Are they willing to give it a try? You can explain the potential benefits and side effects. You may also want to stress the importance of tracking how they feel on the medicine. Finding the right medicine can require a lot of time and effort, so your child (and you) will have to be patient through the process. Common ADHD stimulant medication side effects include sleeping and appetite struggles, headaches, dizziness, tics, and more.
Ensure your child’s diagnosis is correct.
A child can have co-morbid conditions along with their ADHD. These include “anxiety and depression,” as well as the aforementioned learning disabilities. Additionally, Dr. Hafeez shares that children can have other issues that aren’t, in fact, ADHD, such as thyroid problems, that “cause ADHD like features.” It’s possible your child is misdiagnosed or an additional diagnosis has gone undetected. We have to treat the whole child, not just one of their diagnoses.
Explore additional resources.
Kids with ADHD may benefit from therapies, including talk therapy, behavioral therapy, play therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy. Don’t forget, parents need therapy or coaching, too. Dr. Hafeez says that if the child’s “deficits or impairment is not severe,” she has recommended other treatments first—before medication. There are some newer options, including “transmagnetic stimulation” and “a video game approved by the FDA to treat ADHD.”
If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying.
Dr. Hafeez wants us to know that each child “has brain chemistry unique to them, and yes, sometimes, that means trying some different classes or strengths of medications before finding one that works.” She also advises us to ditch any medical professional who isn’t listening to us as the parents or the child, as we advocate. Also, don’t stick with a professional who rushes us to settle. Getting the right diagnosis or diagnoses, finding a therapy and therapists, and choosing a medication takes time and lots of patience.
Choosing whether or not to medicate a child with ADHD isn’t easy. Consider the complexity of ADHD, the possibility of an incorrect or incomplete diagnosis, and how much the child’s disorder is impacting their day-to-day life. With the help of a trusted professional, you can fiercely advocate for your child and hopefully arrive at the best possible solution.
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