That was a very easy answer for me compared to this highly more complex topic of medication.
In my opinion, it comes down to 4 factors:
1) Is ADHD something that’s “wrong” with the child?
2) Could something else be causing the ADHD symptoms?
3) Does the child have significant comorbidities?
4) Are the ADHD symptoms significant enough that they’re impacting the child’s quality of life?
plural noun: comorbidities
the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient.
Question number one is a doozy.
Adult ADHDers and even researchers disagree on this issue.
ADHD is a developmental disorder.
It is a fact that the brain develops in a different way and at a different rate. (See more about this on this post about understanding ADHD.)
It is not a psychological disorder or a mental illness.
It is a difference in how our brains develop.
ADHD has been researched and documented since the late 1700s, so contrary to popular belief it’s not a modern phenomenon.
It’s not a disease or an epidemic that needs to be cured either.
It’s just a difference.
Differences are good.
Although fashion and trends make it seem like we need to all be the same, the truth is that our value is in our differences.
I need and hire a plumber because I value the different skill he has. If I had that skill I wouldn’t value it as highly.
Differences make our world wonderful and beautiful!
It’s important to note here that many ADHDers from European and North American countries find that, upon visiting African or South American countries, the issues that cause so much stress in our fast-paced, type-A society disappear.
Because the expectations are so different, and it’s not socially unacceptable to be late, scattered-brained, or not detailed.
So, is ADHD a disease that needs to be cured?
A problem that needs to be fixed?
Or just a difference?
I’m on the fence on this topic.
On the one hand, in our society having ADHD can be a serious disadvantage; I’ve compared it to having a mental disability.
The fact is that an ADHD brain struggles to do what is required of it in our society.
But does that mean that there’s something wrong with the ADHD person?
Or something wrong with society?
I’m inclined to think the latter.
For practical purposes, I usually suggest that parents think of their child’s as having a disability.
This changes the way you address problems because then you don’t think the child is being willfully disobedient.
But, it’s not a disability.
It’s a different way that the brain has developed.
Remember: different is good.
Diversity is good.
Autism and ADHD are both developmental differences.
They are the same category of disorders.
Some people believe that these are diseases that need to be eradicated –so much so that there are organizations out there seeking to identify genetic markers for ADHD and autism so that before a baby is born we can test for these disorders and abort the baby.
Imagine a world without ADHD or Autism.
You’ve just removed some of the greatest minds our world has ever seen.
We don’t know why, but giftedness is often coupled with developmental problems.
Imagine a world without Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie, Beethoven, Hans Christian Anderson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Georg Frideric Handel, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Vincent van Gogh, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jimmy Stewart, Alexander Graham Bell, Galileo Galilei, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Issac Newton, Henry Ford, and many others.
These people all had abnormal neurological functions (there’s some debate over the diagnoses, but signs point to ADHD or autism).
I’m not saying that your child will end up successful or world-renowned because of his or her ADHD.
My point here is that if those who are anti-neurological diversity had their way none of these out-of-the-box thinkers would have been born with the “disease” of neurodiversity.
We would all be “normal,” and anyone who wasn’t neurologically normal would be aborted.
A world without ADHD or autism.
A world without disabilities.
Like the people who advocate for aborting those with other diseases and disorders like Down Syndrome.
Does this remind you of another group who tried to eliminate everyone who was different?
It takes my mind back to the Nazis of World War II.
So, while I use the term disability to describe ADHD for practicality, to explain the severity, it is not actually a disability and should not be viewed as an epidemic or a disease that needs to be cured.
If you or your child have ADHD, it’s not a disease.
Your or your child’s brain just operates differently –yes, delayed in some areas compared to your peers– but different is not necessarily a bad thing.
We tell our children to accept people’s differences, but I wonder how long it will be before neurodiversity is accepted?
Do you know the cure for ADHD and autism?
That’s the cure.
That’s why I endorse unconditional love as a huge factor in your child’s healthy development.
The answer to question number one –is ADHD something that’s “wrong” with the child?– is complicated and the answer varies depending on who you ask.
ADHD only became an issue and required a diagnosis when our society and its expectations changed to the point that neurodiversity was no longer acceptable.
So, while it may help you to think of your child as having a brain disability –30% behind in any other area would be considered a disability– please don’t think of your child as someone who needs to be cured.
That will not help anyone.
It will make your child feel unaccepted and resentful, and it will make your job of parenting miserable.
Do you accept your child?
It’s an honest question you have to answer for yourself.
Your answer will significantly affect your child’s life.
Question number two: Could something else be causing the ADHD symptoms?
There is all manner of conditions that mimic ADHD.
Traumatic brain injury.
And numerous others.
Your child could have been misdiagnosed with ADHD.
Your child could have of one of these in addition to ADHD.
ADHD by itself isn’t usually as severe as those who I know who have both ADHD plus one of these other conditions.
For instance, my oldest reacts to gluten with severely increased ADHD and anxiety symptoms.
So much so that he chooses to not have glutinous foods.
He simply doesn’t like how they make him feel.
There are six types of medically recognized gluten sensitivities plus autoimmune diseases that create gluten sensitivities.
I think that the reason that so many ADHD patients react well to diet change is because these other undiagnosed conditions are complicating their ADHD by mimicking ADHD-like symptoms.
I’ve had symptoms of autoimmunity since I was a child.
I sometimes wonder where the autoimmunity stops and the ADHD starts.
I believe that the extremity of my ADHD symptoms when I was young is a result of undiagnosed health problems in my childhood.
I don’t fault my parents for this: I had to fight for my diagnosis as an assertive adult; I understand that it would be even harder for me as a child to be accurately diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when the science is even now in its infancy.
It’s important to note here the connection between ADHD and autoimmunity.
Both are connected to leaky gut, and the brain-gut connection is one of the leading explanations of why both ADHD kids and people with autoimmunity respond well to diet change.
Newer science research just this year has found evidence to support a reason for the rise in both autoimmunity and ADHD.
The rise in autoimmunity is thought to be caused by added chemicals and toxins in our environment combined with genetic predisposition.
The person’s body then begins to attack itself (or rather the environmental toxins present in its organs and systems).
Then, when a woman gets pregnant, her body which is already attacking itself –according to research– attacks the inutero brain of her baby.
Combined with a genetic predisposition to these disorders, it causes the baby to have delayed development or neurodiversity.
This explains the high occurrence of chronic and autoimmune illnesses in families with ADHD.
I actually cried when I first read this research.
I gave my children ADHD.
But then I realized that my mom who also has autoimmunity could say the same thing about me.
I would never blame her for her genetics or diseases.
So I refuse to blame myself for my children’s disorders.
It’s completely out of our control.
There’s no need to lay blame; let’s just deal with what is.
The truth is that we’re all victims of our environment and our genetics.
What we can control, we should, and what we can’t, we need to not stress about.
In conclusion of this question, I recommend being aware of other things that could be making your child’s ADHD worse.
Diet, supplements, changed environment, destressing, exercise, limiting media exposure, counseling, behavioral therapy, etc.
These are more could impact your child.
As much as you’re able to, I recommend altering these things to see if your child will benefit.
Our family has benefited especially from diet and a slower paced life than most people.
These don’t help everyone, but if you could see improvement without adding chemical medications into your child’s life, why wouldn’t you at least try?
Some of the medications even for kids have serious side effects.
Question number three: does the child have significant comorbidities?
Comorbidities are ADHD’s ugly cousins.
By itself, ADHD can be a handful but is usually manageable.
Add comorbidities, and it’s like the misbehaving cousin came to visit and the whole thing goes to pot.
I know many people who have only ADHD, and many of them seem to function okay even with the pressures of society.
Add comorbidities, and all bets are off.
Even if you don’t medicate the ADHD, most of the time the comorbidities need to be addressed.
I took a poll in an ADHD moms group.
Seventy-three women participated in the poll. We listed every possible ADHD comorbidity we could think of and asked the moms to select every comorbidity they had (self-diagnosed was okay).
Here are some known ADHD comorbidities which were not represented in our group: schizophrenia, narcissism, motor deficit disorder, and conduct disorder.
This is the result of the poll.
This is just a small cross-section of women, but I think it fairly accurately represents what I know about ADHD comorbidities.
It is absolutely necessary as a parent to be aware of these potential issues and watch for them in your child’s life.
Particularly note the most common ADHD comorbidities: anxiety, depression, and Sensory Processing Disorder.
If you see a condition in that list and you don’t know what it is, I recommend that you do a Google search and familiarize yourself with the symptoms so that you can watch for that problem in your child’s life.
Unfortunately, most ADHDers do have comorbidities, and often the comorbidities are more severe than the ADHD itself.
ADHD is so much more complicated than just attention.
In fact, ADHD isn’t even really about attention.
It was mislabeled.
ADHD would be better labeled as Regulation Deficit Disorder (RDD).
Not everyone who has ADHD is hyperactive, but everyone who has ADHD has regulation problems as a result of the development problems in their brains.
Attention problems are merely a byproduct of poor regulation.
But someone who didn’t really grasp the issues chose the name, and we seem to be stuck with it.
The name is a disservice to those of us with ADHD because it misrepresents the actual issues and adds to the belief that the disorder is fake.
Every time a child has a problem focusing you hear, “Oh, he just has ADHD,” but what if his grandma just died and that’s the reason he’s not paying attention?
Not every distracted child has ADHD.
You have to figure out what’s causing the distraction.
It could be a regulation problem and be ADHD, or it could be a plethora of other disorders that also cause attention problems.
Nearly every childhood disorder includes attention problems.
This is why we need a better, more full understanding of the actual causes of ADHD.
Even if your child’s ADHD doesn’t need to be medicated or treated, more than likely the comorbidities will need treatment.
Anxiety, dyslexia, hair pulling, skin picking, and more — these will most likely need to be addressed in one way or another.
Question number four is this: are the ADHD symptoms significant enough that they’re impacting the child’s quality of life?
If you needed to get a diagnosis, it’s a fair guess that the symptoms are significantly impacting your child’s quality of life.
If your child’s symptoms are significantly diminishing their quality of life, you need to do something.
Even if you don’t want a label and medication and stigmas, do what’s best for your kid.
You think parents of kids with Type 1 Diabetes wish needles and insulin on their child?
Of course not.
But you do what you gotta do.
I did not want my children medicated.
But when my child with ADHD and anxiety climbed a tree for the first time in his life because finally in his 9 almost 10 years he was finally not terrified of climbing a tree?
Yeah, you better believe I cried.
Children should not spend their childhood terrified of playing and being kids!
Medication improved his quality of life.
He is a teen now and not taking medication anymore, but it really helped him at the time.
I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and require medication.
Without it, I risk diminished quality of life and even death.
I don’t want to take medication.
But I do anyway.
Because it’s necessary.
Science also shows us that ADHDers have diminished neurotransmitters compared to neurotypical people.
If you can’t make insulin, there’s no shame in supplementing it.
If your brain doesn’t make the neurotransmitters you need, there’s no shame is supplementing.
The shame should go to those who have the neurotransmitters they need but feel the need to shame others for buying the neurotransmitter to replace their missing ones.
Imagine the outcry if we treated Type 1 Diabetes kids like that.
That would be despicable.
As I mentioned before, I’m a big advocate of trying other treatments before, instead of, or in addition to medication, because I firmly believe that other conditions either exasperate ADHD or mimic ADHD symptoms.
More than likely, finding a combination that works for your child will not be simple.
But it is so important!
You are your child’s advocate to the world around you.
Along with accepting him, you need to fight for his mental health and emotional security.
But most important: you need to do so without excusing actual issues in his life.
There’s a fine line between being a supportive parent and being an enabling parent.
I try to error on the side of assuming that the child is struggling and that it’s not willful.
If the child struggles, they will most likely be apologetic about the chaos it’s causing a feel bad about you having to make accommodations, grateful when you do accommodate.
If the child is being manipulative, they’ll act like they won if you accommodate and not be grateful.
Attitude is key.
This is more challenging to navigate when the child has certain disorders like Oppositional Defiance Disorder.
When in doubt, pray for wisdom.
Basically, your choices when dealing with an ADHD child are as follows:
Find support systems
Establish coping skills.
Or a combination.
If you choose not to medicate you absolutely, mandatorily, surely must accommodate.
Without some kind of support, you child will not thrive, and they absolutely will be damaged by your expectation that they be something that they cannot be.
Don’t do that to your kid.
That’s like scolding a child with no leg for not running.
He cannot do what he is not equipped to do.
Your child will hate you if you do that –and for good reason.
From one parent who lives with ADHD to another parent, I implore you not to damage your child in this way.
When in doubt, love them, accept them, believe in them, help them, accommodate them.
Be the crutch they need, because no one faults a child with a broken foot for using a crutch.
Your child needs a crutch because to the world around him he is broken — even though we know it’s a difference, not a disease.
If your child is going to even remotely function in this type-A society, you’re going to have to be their crutch.
Or, if you dare, you can rewrite the rules and create your own micro-society with new rules that work for you and your child.
That’s what homeschooling is: it is a new micro-society in which accommodations are made so that the neurologically different child can thrive.
This is why I endorse homeschooling especially for kids with ADHD and autism.
This is why these kids –like me– thrive in homeschooling and do not, for the most part, thrive in other forms of education.
So, to answer the original question that prompted this post — should I medicate my ADHD child? — maybe, maybe not.
But no matter, what medication isn’t all you should do.
That single choice to love your child unconditionally will affect your child more than any medication, treatment, coping mechanism, or accommodation ever could.
When in doubt, give love and grace.
Again, I’ll say it in case you didn’t get it yet: your child needs unconditionally accepting love.
There’s nothing in the world like it, nothing can replace it, and there’s no damage like the damage of not having it.