To begin, let’s all acknowledge what a complex issue this is. When you have a baby, you’re typically overwhelmed with hope and positive fantasies about what your new child will become. When you’re pregnant, you rarely focus on the fear that your child could be seriously hyperactive. Drumroll…and then it happens. It happens to parents wealthy and poor; parents overly prepared and underprepared; parents who have doctorates and who have nothing but a high school education. Most importantly, it’s no one’s fault. Ultimately, you must trust that managing your child’s hyperactivity is possible, and that managing it well can produce a totally happy and productive child.
Quick background information: There are three types of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, Predominantly Inattentive Type (trouble focusing but they’re not hyperactive), and Combined Type (trouble focusing and hyperactivity). Which type is your child? Only a licensed mental health or health professional can tell you the true diagnosis.
If you have a hyperactive child or one who has tremendous difficulty focusing, you probably monitored your child for a while and then finally took your child to be evaluated. For some parents, a teacher or physician tells them that it’s time for an ADHD evaluation. Once your child is evaluated, you are faced with a difficult decision: Should I medicate my child?
I recently conducted an assessment with a teenager who was suffering and who truly would benefit from psychiatric medication, but the idea of medicating the child was simply too much for the parent. In short, she wouldn’t agree to give her child a psychiatric medication. As a psychologist, I understood her hesitation but I also lamented the fact that her child will probably continue to suffer because he won’t receive one of the most effective interventions: medication.
Hesitation about medicating your child is understandable.
When I say that I understand parents’ hesitation to give their children psychiatric medication, it’s not lip service. Sure, most medications prescribed that treat ADHD are approved by the FDA, but who knows what the long-term consequences will be of medicating a child? No one truly knows for sure. I believe that the reason why parents should medicate some children is because medicating certain types of problems will prevent harm in other areas. For example, if your child is truly hyperactive, your child simply will not be able to learn at the same pace as other children without this disorder. Though you may not want to medicate your child, you also have to reconcile what you can do to make sure that your child is able to get educated optimally.
Is there one right answer? In other words, is it fair to say that medicating children is either unhealthy or necessary? No. One size does not fit all when it comes to behavior problems in children. The best thing you can do if you are struggling with this issue is to make a list of your questions and worries, and ask as many people as possible: your physician; family members who will not judge you; friends who have a good perspective; and school professionals.
A solution that might work for you
I have found in working with families that a nice compromise on this issue can include trying psychiatric medication for a month or two to see what kind of difference it can make. If your child, you, and school staff don’t notice any significant positive changes, it wouldn’t make sense to continue the medication. But if the changes are significant, it is worth weighing the advantages and disadvantages!
A quick caveat about misdiagnosis
Because ADHD is so commonly diagnosed these days, it’s possible that some of these diagnoses are incorrect. One recent study, for example, suggested that symptoms that look like ADHD in kids may actually reflect a sleep disorder instead (e.g., sleep apnea). Again, consult your doctor and add this to your list of questions.
Best Way to Test for ADHD
The most accurate way to test for an ADHD diagnosis includes the use of a neuropsychological, computer based Continuing Performance Test (CPT) in conjunction with questionnaires and a clinical interview.
The overall message
I believe the most important point for parents struggling with any parenting issue is for them to feel supported. Parenting truly is the world’s most challenging and delicate job, and conscious parents do everything they can to ensure that their child has the healthiest and happiest future possible. Regardless of how you choose to deal with this issue now – medicating or not medicating – the good news is that many children grow out of this problem. Children who were hyperactive or who had great difficulty focusing often become teenagers and young adults who are successful and who manage to live an overall happy and functional life.