I recently clicked on the link to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution titled, “ADHD Drugs Can Lead to Psychosis.” As a concerned parent whose child has ADD the headline caught my eye. Of course, after I followed the link, I saw the actual title of the article was “ADHD Drugs Can Lead to Psychosis in Some According to New Study.” Clickbait aside, the article spurred an idea for this month’s article. Many of my clients struggle with attention, focus, and hyperactivity. I was on a low dose of Ritalin for most of my middle school years off and on into college. Because of this, I can testify to the benefits and drawbacks of the ADHD/ADD diagnosis and the medications used to treat it.
Making the decision to treat symptoms of attention issues can often be a stressful journey for both the parents and the children. Most kids hate pills and get annoyed with school anyway, so that’s basically a built-in battle you didn’t need. And most parents don’t want to give their children amphetamines, or any drug for that matter, that will have an impact on their brain functioning at such a crucial age of brain development. However, I can say without a doubt, that there are many children and adults who function better at school, work, and home while on some variation of ADHD meds. To say that medication is never beneficial is simply not true. ADHD/ADD, like many of our imperfections, has been overdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and because of this, medications have been over-prescribed.
This cake of tribulations has many layers, and much of the blame falls at our own feet as parents. We have relied too heavily on imperfect systems to manage our children (schools, church, the counseling office) and our health (insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, and the government). We tend to take the easiest solution for difficult problems, and then are left scratching our heads when the pill we spent so much energy to get doesn’t quite deliver the results we’d hoped it would.
I’ve been pressured on more than one occasion by desperate parents looking to solve learning and discipline problems by simply applying a diagnosis so that the doctor, the school, or even the government will open the supposed flood gates to education plans, social security, and medications that promise to “solve” their problems. And I’m proud to say tactics like that don’t work here because we don’t rely on insurance companies to pay our bills. We can do what we do at extremely low costs to the client and their family because people like you care enough to give. And because people like you care enough to give, we don’t require a diagnosis for any of our clients to seek counseling in our office.
Our goal is never to medicate as many kids as possible, or shuffle people through counseling as quick as we can. It’s the exact opposite. But sometimes medication is a necessary part of what we do. When my own son’s struggles with attention began to affect his school work, we spent extended hours helping him to manage his homework. If there was a tutoring possibility, we took it. But inevitably, we decided for him to continue to grow in his abilities and his confidence, he was going to need some help. His passion for learning began to drag, and his confidence began to take a hit, which led to goofing off in class and grades slipping. Some kids struggle with confidence because their parents never allow them to fail, and some kids struggle with confidence because they’re not in a system that is playing to their strengths. 9 times out of 10, my ADHD/ADD clients have confidence issues because they are not built for our modern-day classroom setting. Most of them are built to problem-solve while using high amounts of energy, and some are gifted creatively and need time to think and consider things longer than the school setting allows. All of them need more than 30 minutes of recess.
Either way, confidence issues lead to discipline problems in the classroom and at home. They usually show up around 3rd or 4th grade, and parents typically have 3 choices. They can change the type of learning environment their child is in (usually the most expensive), they can treat with medication and various forms of therapy (expensive to moderately expensive depending on medication and insurance), or they can lower their expectations for their child and his or her schoolwork (cheapest and least favorable for everyone involved, especially your child). Preferably I advocate for the parents I work with to foster a plan for their child that includes all three, to a limited extent, with the understanding that most of the changes will need to take place at home in time spent studying, playing outside/physical activity, and serious screen time reductions. And advocating for our child when they come home with a C instead of an A. Some of us are C students in math, no matter how hard we work.
In the end, medication is another tool in the shed. It is not a promise or a guarantee. It is not a replacement for studying with your child and working with them on their homework. It is not a substitute for good old-fashioned discipline, teaching our children to respect authority, and to be kind and compassionate while learning to stand for what is right and manage their feelings. It is an imperfect answer to a difficult problem. If you’ve spent the last 6 months to a year trying to earnestly help your child with their schoolwork, self-esteem, eating, or anxiety; if you’ve sought the advice of a licensed professional counselor, your primary care physician, and your child’s teacher on what can be done to improve things at home and school, then it’s okay to consider medication. You’re not a bad parent, and your son or daughter is not broken beyond repair. Pills won’t solve all your problems, but they do have their place. And if it gives your child the help they need to survive their school years thinking confidently about who they are and what they can accomplish, then I’d chalk that up as a win-win. ____________  Many of the major discipline and mental health issues plaguing our schools today are because parents have opted to not have any expectations of their children. In reality, we can use a combination of all three of these approaches to best help our child. It’s easier and definitely cheaper to give up your expectations completely when it comes to your ADHD kid learning. This is bad parenting. Our schools and government systems do not have the capability to handle the caseloads generated by uninvolved parents and they never will. Because a good work ethic and perseverance (the character trait your child is learning when they go to school even though it’s hard) are taught at home. Likewise, patience, love, and kindness are too.