Why We Medicate One Of Our Kids For ADHD — But Not The Others Who Have It

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
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Everyone in my house, from my husband on down, has varying degrees of diagnosed ADHD. He and I are spacey and vague: we lose small objects; our trains of thought become runaway. We forget dates and deadlines. We hyperfocus: when we become absorbed in an activity, we focus on it so intently that to get our attention requires shouting. We develop strange obsessions and hobbies, then discard them. Both of us medicate, me to the highest FDA-allowable dose of time-release Adderall. Otherwise mail makes me cry.

But we’ve chosen to take different approaches with our sons. One absolutely must be medicated for our sanity and his. Another doesn’t need medication at all. A third has gone through patches where medication has helped, and could probably help again, but we’d rather not give them if we don’t have to. Adderall and Ritalin are both a hell of a drug.

ADHD doesn’t always mean you need to medicate. Here’s which kids we decided to medicate (with the guidance of our pediatrician, of course) — and why.

We Don’t Medicate Our Oldest

We knew our oldest had ADHD when he was a small child. He had a short attention span; he moved from toy to toy quickly even for a normal toddler. He was very, very, very loud — louder than most kids his age, loud enough that people noticed. He talked early and often. Screen time had to stay very limited: like many ADHD kids, he seemed to have a propensity for addiction to it.

He still tends towards loudness at age eleven. Lately, he’s taken to making strange sounds regularly: gleeps and glorps and strange guttural tones, over and over. Since the pandemic, he’s borderline-addicted to “Star Wars: Battlefront II,” which makes me crazy. He will also discourse, in vivid detail and at the slightest provocation, on topics ranging from LEGOs to paleobotany.

However: none of this disturbs him, or us, in a manner that interferes with his daily functioning. While he always needed double-checking that he remembered his (fill in the blank) when he left sports, he had no trouble following directions, either from us or from others. He can sit and do schoolwork without falling into major distraction, even when the work isn’t to his liking. Math may be be more difficult, but it’s not because he’s staring out the window.

So we don’t medicate.

When he moves into high school and more structured homeschooling, when papers become due and pressure heats up, we may need to medicate him so he can stay on track. We’re open to that possibility. He may need more help organizing himself as life gets more complicated. But right now, he’s humming along. So we’ve never considered medication for him

My Youngest Technically Has A Ritalin Prescription


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However, we don’t give it to him. We asked for it at a time when his tantrums, crying, and clinginess were probably better attributed to restarting school mid-pandemic than ADHD. He’s generally an easy-going little dude — though out of all my children, he remains most likely to throw a fit when screen time stops, and he always has been. We have had to be careful about how much electronic interaction he has, and how often.

It’s a delicate balance. He can solve complex mental games meant for adults. But they’re on a screen. Shouldn’t he be playing chess? He doesn’t want to play chess. I wouldn’t medicate a kid because he screams when we take away his tablet. But I would medicate him when he falls over and screams because he can’t write an utterly perfect sentence.

When he became afraid of challenges because he might fail them, and that turned into epic tantrums about school, we chose to medicate him. It got us over the hump of school starting, and when we tried tapering it off, we didn’t have a problem again. He’d swung into a new rhythm. No more tears over reading “Dogman”? No more medication. It’s not perfect; he still cries when he has to write. But it’s out of laziness more than a desire for perfection, and once he buckles down, he can do it.

We Must Medicate Our Middle Son

It isn’t fair or right to deprive our middle son of his needed medication. End of story. This kid cannot focus without Focalin. Schoolwork sends him into a spiral of despair and tantrums. He cries when I ask him to read — and he’s nine; ADHD already makes him act younger than his age, too. He cries when I ask him to do math, and he cries when he makes simple mistakes.

Cry is the wrong word. Try “slithers out of his chair and screams.”

If we chose not to medicate, bedtime would be a disaster. And if we forget his Focalin, it is. He screams. He needs a drink. He needs a snack. He can’t sleep. He screams some more. He refuses to let his brothers sleep. It’s exhausting, patience-draining.

Every Kid And Adult with ADHD is Different

ADHD doesn’t automatically mean a parent needs to medicate. It may mean medication in the future. It may mean medication now, and tapering off later. We kept our middle son on Focalin during the school year only, until his symptoms worsened, then we chose to medicate year-round. It also doesn’t mean a certain kind of medication, though if their genetic parent takes an ADHD medicine that works for them, chances are it will work for their child, too. Since I take Adderall and my husband takes Ritalin, we threw the dice and came up lucky.

Choosing to medicate for ADHD does not mean a parent has failed in some way. It doesn’t mean they should have tried something else, that they’re taking an easy way out, or even that their child’s case is more severe than another’s. It simply means that their child’s ADHD action plan calls for medication. Once the world realizes that, we can begin removing some of the stigma attached to both ADHD and its treatment.

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