Medication for kids with ADHD is a hot-button issue. Over the years, we have talked with literally thousands of parents about the pros and cons of making this challenging decision for their children.
At ImpactParents, we do not take a position for or against prescription medication. Instead, we believe that any comprehensive treatment for ADHD should include some kind of “brain activation,” whether it is achieved through medication, nutrition, or other means of optimizing brain function. We have spent countless hours coaching parents to evaluate their options, and make the best decisions for their family. We respect that it is a very personal decision.
So, when trying to make the decision about whether or not to try prescription medication for your child, we want to offer you a few thoughts we believe are essential for you to consider.
Parents' Perspectives on Medication
We hear a wide range of messages from parents about medication, such as...
- “No matter what, I don't want to put my child on medication.”
- “I have tried everything possible to avoid putting my child on medication, and you're my last hope.”
- “I avoided putting my child on medication for a really long time, but we finally gave in and it's amazing what a difference it makes.”
- “We've had our child on medication, but we don't see much of a difference.”
- “We tried medication years ago, but my child turned into a ‘zombie,' and it just wasn't worth the side effects.”
- “Medication has given me my child back.”
10 Essential Considerations About ADHD Medication in Children
Regardless of where you find yourself currently on this spectrum, we strongly urge you to take into account these 10 essential considerations:
- You are not going to be able to avoid the judgment of others. Medication is a divisive issue in the world of ADHD management. Whether or not you choose to use medications recommended and prescribed by your child's medical practitioner, there is going to be someone who thinks your decision is flat-out wrong. So try to identify a few trusted resources to guide you through the noise so that you can make a clear decision for your child.
- Think in terms of identifying ways to activate the brain. Over the course of your child's life, you may do that in many ways—with exercise, nutrition, sports, sleep management, brain training, play, coaching, and/or medication. Whether or not you choose to use prescription medication, it's important to understand that the ADHD brain regularly requires activation.
- Medication is one of the tools in the toolbox we use to manage ADHD. Whether or not you are currently choosing to use prescription medication, it is responsible to become educated about medication so that you can make an informed decision.
- Medication is usually not a one-time decision in the treatment of ADHD. You will more than likely make different choices over the years, based on a wide range of circumstances. Even if you choose to use medication continuously, you're still likely to need to make changes somewhere along the journey. It's just the nature of any chronic medical condition with a variety of treatment options.
- If you choose to use prescription medication, make sure you are clear about the changes you might expect to see, as only some behaviors common to ADHD can be improved with medication (like improving focus or decreasing impulsivity). In fact, some aspects of executive function, such as organization, cannot be addressed with medication. Ask your medical practitioner if your expectations are realistic and determine how you will evaluate effectiveness.
- Medication is not a panacea. It does not “fix” a child's executive function deficits. It can make it possible for a child to be open to learning tools for self-management. But taking pills without reinforcing skills is a missed opportunity, preventing you from cultivating future independence.
- According to the ADHD: Parents Medication Guide prepared by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association, medication is “effective in treating the symptoms of ADHD, as long as it is administered in doses adjusted for each child to give the best response—either alone or in combination with behavioral therapy.” Stimulants like methylphenidate or amphetamines are the first-choice medication for ADHD, as they “reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity, improve attention, and increase the ability to get along with others. . . . Stimulant medications have been available for decades, and are very well studied. Evidence shows that these stimulants are quite safe when prescribed to healthy children and used under medical supervision. . . . Some parents prefer another class of medications referred to as non-stimulants because of the side effects associated with taking stimulant medications. These medications may be good alternatives for children who do not respond well to stimulant medication, cannot tolerate the side effects of stimulant medications, or have other conditions along with ADHD.”
- Our friend and colleague, Laurie Dupar, is a nurse practitioner and our go-to educator about medication issues. She has a terrific list of 13 questions to ask prescribers, which you can download for free by clicking here.
- As with any medication, there is a wide range of potential side effects associated with ADHD medications, and they tend to be more common in younger kids. Talk to your medical practitioner about the side effects to watch out for and what to do if you experience concerns. Because most ADHD medications have immediate results, they are often easy to stop without problems.
- Contrary to what you often hear in the media, ADHD medications are not addictive for people with ADHD. If anything, people with ADHD have trouble remembering to take their medication, which is the opposite of what you would expect with an addiction. In fact, according to “What You Need to Know About Substance Abuse and ADHD Treatment” on CHADD's website and other sources, putting kids on medication to treat ADHD can actually reduce future risks for addiction or alcoholism.