On medicating my kid

Scrolling through my newsfeed I’ve seen countless articles and posts spouting that we have become a society that is needlessly drugging our kids. That there is an epidemic of misdiagnosis of ADHD, when in fact, we are simply in the midst of a generation of active children with parents who think a pill is the solution that will make their lives a little easier.  Drug them into obedience – shouldn’t we be ashamed of ourselves? What these kids need is good parenting! Interesting perspective. I didn’t give it much thought. Even seemed plausible.

But in hindsight, I was ignorant.

Because here I am, with a child who has been recently diagnosed with ADHD… who has been prescribed medication… and truly needed it.

Our seeking professional help was not the first choice. And if we’re being honest, we knew something was different about Brogan’s behavior since he was very young. He was super, super active, he was defiant, he was disrespectful, he was impulsive.  He expressed himself with outbursts of rage. We did research and thought the answer was “spirited child” (which he probably is too), so we settled on that self-diagnosis and did our best to equip ourselves with strategies that help kids like him. It worked some times. But not most the time. And so we found ourselves in a cycle of time outs, taking stuff away, sending him to his room and spankings. None of which actually stopped the bad behavior. But at least we felt like we were trying and so we kept on.

Fast forward to this fall. All these behaviors that we’d experienced at home started surfacing more at school. His impulsivity was getting worse. His decisions were poor. He was saying inappropriate things. He started seeing the school counselor who tried working with him on his filter, his social skills and how to stay focused at class. He was hard to teach, but his teachers tried loving him through it. He started to get down on himself about his poor choices. But after months of various tactics and incentives ultimately being ineffective, his teacher, his counselor, his principal and an academic advisor sat Blake and I down and said they felt he was unable (not unwilling) to control his behavior. They thought he had ADHD. We heard them out and committed to do whatever was necessary to help him be successful in school… and in life. And so we immediately made an appointment with his doctor and a psychiatrist.

Prior to this, I’d always thought ADHD was simply about hyperactivity and focus. I thought because he was able to focus in some scenarios, that he didn’t fit in the box. But there are many other symptoms, I discovered, like impulsivity, lack of executive functioning, disorganization and lack of a social filter that are evident in ADHD kids. Mind blown.

As we sat in the psychiatrist’s office, after the testing was complete and she had made her official diagnosis – ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (with a statistical certainty of 89%) –  we felt relieved that we had an answer. When she said that traditional parenting techniques don’t work with kids with these conditions, we felt reassured that we didn’t just suck at parenting. When we heard her say that kids with ADHD and ODD, who are born into the wrong homes, are often abused, we felt thankful that God chose Brogan to be our son.

We are now a few weeks post-medication – a slow release version of Ritalin – and wow, what a difference. His teacher said the change in his behavior is like night and day – he’s able to focus on his work, his reading comprehension has improved, his handwriting has improved, he’s getting along better with his friends, he keeps his hands to himself and the impulsivity has nearly stopped. But he’s not a zombie – he’s full of spunk and energy and life. He still eats. He still sleeps well. He still fights with his brother (bummer we couldn’t fix that part ha!).  He’s still Brogan – only now he’s Brogan at his full potential. He likes himself on it too – says he feels more in control and able to make good decisions. He gladly takes his medicine each day.

And so here’s the part where I get on my soapbox. Where I get mad about the spouting of ignorant generalizations that claim my kid is one of the multitude that we are drugging in an effort to make parenting easier on ourselves. That claim mental illnesses such as these are a hoax, citing the unprecedented rise in cases.  You know, there are other conditions that seem to be much more prevalent now than when I was a child, such as food allergies, but no one looks at me sideways as I tote my Epipen around. While I suppose I can’t say that all children diagnosed  with ADHD and prescribed pharmaceuticals are all correctly diagnosed, I can speak for my child. I can say that he has a real condition that needed treatment. I can say that I am at peace with our decision to take action to medicate him rather than live in denial of his mental health condition. I can say that giving him a pill each morning that helps him excel at school, get along with his friends, and improves his self-esteem allows us to sleep well at night. From my soapbox, I can confidently say that I refuse to feel guilt or shame for this choice, and I hope to instill that same confidence in Brogan.

So before you are quick to judge, quick to discount the merits of medication, just remember that many, many children truly need it. Do the research and discover that ADHD is a real disorder based on decades of research, and more recently backed by brain scan and DNA evidence. Realize that when you make uneducated generalizations, you further the stigma associated with mental health conditions such as these. And I ask that when you hear that someone has reached the decision to medicate their child, please try to respond from a place of respect and love.