Medication For Kids With ADHD — Is It Just About School Work?

Welcome to Tea & Tips, where we respond to burning questions from parents and educators — taking aim on one topic at a time, guiding you to improve communication, confidence and calm.

If your kids with ADHD are doing well in school, do they still need medication? What exactly is the purpose of medication?

Elaine:
Here's a question from a mom of a fourth grader in a high performing school, a demanding school, and she said, "If my child is performing really well in school, do we need medication?" So, what would you say?

Diane:
Well, I think that what I'm trying to do is understand kind of what the goal is. When we make the decision to medicate our child, we want to do it because we want to change something.

Elaine:
Right. What's the behavior you're trying to change?

Diane:
What's not working right now? And so, I think that putting your child on meds just because it's supposed to is probably not the best place to start. But if your child's struggling with something ... And a lot of times, this mom's kid is in fourth grade, and a lot of times, what happens is because the part of the brain that's about being smart is different than the part of the brain that's being organized? Sometimes, the executive function challenges that our kids have don't show up until fifth or sixth or seventh grade, and so that-

Elaine:
Right, when the school work gets harder, or that organization becomes more required... to be successful.

Diane:
Yeah. I think that the important thing is to kind of pay attention to the situation you have, and make the decision in the moment, rather than where you think it's going to happen, or what's going to happen moving forward.

Elaine:
Yeah. No shoulds here. It's really about what is the change you're trying to address? Is medication the appropriate solution for that, and if so, you may consider it, and if not, you may wait until you're at a point where it seems like there's something you're really directly trying to change.

Diane:
Then another plug is that we want to make sure we remember that medication alone isn't enough, that even if you have your child on medication, medication doesn't fix executive function challenges. Our kids need help to figure out how to manage their brain.

Elaine:
Right. You don't want pills without skills, and so right now, you're doing the skills, and you're learning how to help her support herself. And it sounds like she's doing pretty well with it, and at some point, you may see a change in that, and that may indicate a need for something different.

Bottom Line:
Whenever using medication for ADHD, you want to make sure you know what the change is you want to see, and make sure medication will help with that. With or without medication, learning skills for management is key to long term success with ADHD.

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