Many parents struggle with whether they should medicate their child diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The thought of giving a child drugs to alter his or her mental state is frightening for any parent. My friend, Ingrid grappled with the decision for years. At age 2, her son, Nico, was extremely hyperactive and as he grew older, the symptoms worsened. “He couldn’t concentrate. He couldn’t follow simple directions. I’d ask him to go to his room, put on his shoes and come back to the family room. He would go to his room and 20 minutes later was still there. I’d go see what was going on and he was playing with something in his room. I’d ask him why he didn’t do as I said and he responded ‘what did you ask me to do again?’” Nico’s lack of concentration began to affect his school work. Ingrid says what should have taken one hour to complete took several hours. Nico would get up constantly to do other things and Ingrid had to drag him back to do his homework. “It was exhausting. I often asked myself what I had done to deserve this. There was a lot of arguing and tension in the house. I felt that I had to repeat myself constantly and grew frustrated when Nico wouldn’t follow directions. I found myself yelling to get his attention.” The situation at home and at school became so disruptive that Ingrid and her husband, Hillary, turned to a neurologist who put Nico on medication. Ingrid says it changed their lives. “We saw a change in him instantly. It was incredible. He could concentrate and focus. It was as if the clouds cleared in his brain and he was able to see clearly.”
I spoke with Dr. Carlos Gadia, a private practice pediatric neurologist who serves on the medical staff at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. He told me there are several things to consider when deciding to put your child on medication. He says, much like in Nico’s case, parents need to determine if there is “impairment.”
“Not paying attention, being easily distracted or unable to sit still, all of us at some point or another may actually have these symptoms and not necessarily have a disorder. What makes the difference between a pattern of behavior and a disorder is impairment, when the child cannot perform as expected because he cannot pay attention or sit still.” That’s when Dr. Gadia says medication may be necessary. Another very important factor to consider when choosing your child’s treatment is the possibility that there could be another condition present in addition to the ADHD. For example, Dr. Gadia says some children suffer from an anxiety disorder. It’s important to take that into account since some medications used to treat ADHD can also cause an increase in anxiety. There’s also the possibility that a child could have certain learning disabilities in addition to ADHD. Dr. Gadia says he’s had parents of children being treated for ADHD come back to the office concerned because their child is still not performing well in school, despite the ADHD medication. It is later discovered that the child also has learning disabilities. This is why Dr. Gadia insists a full evaluation and thorough diagnosis be made in order to best treat the child.
As for Nico, he will soon be turning 16 and is almost completely off medication for ADHD. He is doing very well in school and only uses the medication when he has a big exam to study for and really needs to concentrate. Ingrid says she learned a big lesson from the experience. “Don’t take it personally. I took it personally at first but then realized it has nothing to do with you or with your parenting skills. It’s a condition your child has and finding the right treatment will make all the difference.”