To Medicate or Not? The Great ADHD Debate

***Time for chapter 3 in my beautiful daughter’s story of growth and success beyond ADHD and Anxiety.  If you missed chapter 1 & 2, click the links below to read how our journey began.

She’s Struggling! What Do We Do?

Our Experience with Brain Balance

As we started our second year at our new school, we also started out third year of living the alternative treatment life. I read everything I could get my hands on about alternative treatments for ADHD. We continued our large regimen of natural supplements, increasing dosages here and there. We maintained the cleanest diet imaginable. We even continued some Brain Balance exercises after our disappointing back slide when the program concluded. We entered her second grade year hopeful that it would be her best year yet.

Things did not start out with a Bang! We were looking forward to the comfort of the same classroom with the same teachers, a benefit of the Montessori multi-age environment. A few days before school started we received the news that we had a new lead teacher. Mariana took it in stride.  After all, school is school. She started the process of learning a new person and all new routines. The first month of school went fine, but when the work amped up things started barreling downhill.

Mariana lived in a state of overwhelm. Her reactions to this overwhelm ranged from shutting down, to aggressive and angry. All three reactions are not looked upon favorably in a classroom setting of any kind. The notes started coming home listing incidents of defiance, aggression, and disruption. So began my life of school meetings. Much to my disappointment, many of these offenses led to school suspensions. My greatest regret is signing a behavior contract that allowed her “offenses” to compile, each ending in a longer school suspension. By the end of the year, she had a 10 day suspension for what I considered a minor offense.  Every morning I felt like I was dropping my child off to a war zone and waited anxiously for my phone to ring until the moment I picked her up.

During this time Mariana was in therapy as a result of a referral from the school.  I diligently took her every week, but did not see any real improvement from the process. Finally in one of my many meetings, the special education coordinator pushed me to look into medication. Up until this point, I was 100% settled on natural treatments. She asked me, “If she needed glasses would you purchase them?” The answer is, of course, yes. She replied, “Medication is the same; she needs some help.” I went home and talked it over with my husband. We decided to give it a try and made the appointment.

I walked into the pediatrician’s office with a folder of information. I had every evaluation, every discipline note, print outs on all the supplements we were taking; I was armed with information.  I was very clear that this was not my first option. My pediatrician thanked me for being so thorough and trying so many things. She was happy to prescribe something and see if it was able to help Mariana be more successful in school. With this appointment, we started the medication experiment.

I use the word experiment, because medication is not an easy solution.  There are so many kinds and each kind can be taken in multiple dosages. Every person has a unique chemistry and there is no way to know which medication will work best. It is a massive game of trial and error. I HATED treating my child like a science experiment. It was a very emotional time for all of us. It took one year and multiple doctors to find a medication combination that helped her feel calm, focused, and in control. One year of intense ups and downs.

By the end of third grade, we had a psychiatrist who specialized in children and found a combination of two medications that made a considerable difference in how Mariana functioned in school. By this time, we also had a Psychologist who specialized in children with ADHD and had a regular appointment to help us all work through issues as they came up. Things were looking up.

We walked into 4th grade with fear and trepidation, but ended it having the best school year of her career. I was brought to tears one evening a couple months into the school year when she told me, “School is not that bad right now.” My child HATED school with a power equal to a nuclear eruption. She spent Sunday night sick to her stomach in anticipation of the school week to come. “Not that bad” was equal to LOVE in our world. It was a very long 5 years getting us to this point – a place where I didn’t wait for my phone to ring all day every day and a place where school was not equivalent to an active war zone. The end of 4th grade marked a place of peace and our first big marker of school success.

Choosing to medicate your child is a very difficult and personal decision. Even looking backwards, I do not regret waiting for what felt like the right time. We learned an immense amount about food triggers, communication, and behavior modification during those pre-med years. All these things are still very important in supporting Mariana as a whole person, outside of what the medication does. Medication is not a cure. It does not take an atypical brain and make it neuro-typical. Medication is an assistant. It makes things a little easier. My daughter and I talk often about the way her brain works. We talk about all the ways it makes her special. Let me tell you friends, hyper-focus is almost a super power when used for the power of good. We also talk about the challenges and what she can do to overcome them. We all have challenges and we each need to find our own way to approach them.

When other moms ask me my thoughts, I lead with how much medication helped my daughter. I follow with – it is not magic, it is not easy, and you have other options to try instead of or along with medication. For me personally, I think finding a psychiatrist that specializes in children is so important. I am so grateful for my amazing pediatricians who got us started and listened to every question and concern I had. I am also grateful for the referral when I felt we needed more than they could provide. Finding a psychologist and going regularly can also be incredibly helpful, not just for your child but for you. Having an un-involved third party validate my concerns and help me walk through them helped me be a better mom and a better advocate. Moms (and Dads of course) do what you think is best for your child and do not be afraid to change the path. Be the rock they need to become successful on their life and school journey.

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