Medication for ADHD Kids

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taking medicine adhdThere is nothing that annoys me more than to hear someone make blanket statements about how ADHD should be treated. Our children are individuals, with different personalities, learning styles, diets, educational settings, and home backgrounds. Each child has different body chemistry, too. All these factors combined make it impossible for people to say, “If you’d just do such and so, Susie would be fine.”

But people do say it, and when they do, it often leaves parents like us feeling discouraged, ineffective, and insecure. I don’t want anything I write to leave anyone with those types of feelings. So remember, I’m not a doctor, a psychologist, or a teacher. I’m a mom with more than my share of ADHD boys. I can only pray that our experience will encourage you to diligently seek the best for your family.

When our first son was diagnosed, his teacher told me that we would work together and do whatever we could to avoid medicating him. With 504 modifications and a lot of effort and coaching from parents and school, he learned. His grades weren’t great (although standardized test scores were), but he learned, and that is the point of school. We had succeeded, and to me, it was quite clear that medicine was not for us. I confess to feelings of smugness and superiority to those mothers who had chosen what I felt was the lesser path.

Two years later, our son Mike was diagnosed. His teacher also had a son with ADHD/Inattentive whom she had never medicated. We worked diligently with Mike, but it didn’t happen for him. He was getting further and further behind, and his self esteem was starting to plummet. He absolutely could not pay attention.

With heavy hearts, we started to consider putting him on medication. I began reading, and what I read scared me to death. Ritalin is cocaine for kids. Ritalin is the school’s way of controlling unruly students. Ritalin will lead to harder drugs. But I also read positive reviews on Ritalin. I was thoroughly confused.

So I had discussions with my doctor and pharmacist. I’ve known both of them for many years, and they told me personal stories about ADHD individuals in their family. My mom, a teacher, told me of being able to look in the grade book and tell when a child had started medication. She talked of one little boy and the dramatic boost in his confidence when his increased focus helped him to succeed in class.

I talked with two friends who were undiagnosed as children, but who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. One spent three years in prison for DUI, and the other still can’t remember anything about one year of his life.

Finally, I prayed that whatever decision we made would be for the best. And we decided that we would give medication a try. I don’t cry much, even at sappy movies, but when I picked up that first prescription I cried for hours. It was one of the most awful days of my life.

But the medication did make a difference. It did provide focus for Mike, and the focus led to learning, which led to better self-esteem. Mike was happier. But medication didn’t cure Mike. Yes, it helped him to focus, which led to self confidence and academic success. But it never helped him get organized, and it never made his handwriting better. It was just another tool in the belt.

We kept Mike on Ritalin or Concerta for two and a half years, but this school year my husband felt like we should take him off. Although I strongly disagreed (“You’re not the one who has to pick up the academic pieces halfway through the grading period!”) I’ve lived with my husband long enough to know that he is usually right. And I’m happy to report that Mike was still able to focus and learn. He also was able to stay organized, turn in his work, and study without being prompted.

Attention Deficit Disorder cannot really be ‘cured’. It can be outgrown. It can be overcome. We can compensate for it, and make allowances for it. But there is nothing that you can do for your child that will just make ADHD magically go away. Only you can decide what is best for your child – no doctor, no educator, and no mother in law has the privilege of that responsibility. Do your research. Ask your questions. Say your prayers. Then go with your heart, because the love in your heart is the most important thing you can ever give the wonderful person that is your child.

More on Medicine and ADHD:
High School and ADHD Meds: Our Story
New Research on ADHD Meds: Guilt Free News
ADHD Medicine Melodrama

About Kayla

Kayla Fay is a freelance writer and the mother of four boys, three of whom have been formally diagnosed with the inattentive type of ADHD. When she started “Who Put the Ketchup in the Medicine Cabinet?” in 2002, her sons were ages 8 through 14, when her life was a “progression of dirty laundry, lost homework, misunderstood Algebra, and a whole lot of love and fun”.

Connect with Kayla online Google+


  1. http://Michael says

    I wanted to say thank you so much for this story. It is almost exactly what we are going thru currently and it is also with a heavy heart that we are going to start medication. I do not want to have my sons confidence shaken and academics plummet. Meds scare me alot but hopefully the pluses will outweigh the negs.. Thanks again for your honest and positive story!

  2. http://Kat says

    Thank you for sharing your story! I second Michaels comment 100%. It helps to know that others out there are going through the same challenge and that there is hope to overcome the huge hurdles we are facing.

  3. http://Mari%20Rosen says

    Please please try removing gluten. I personally was finally diagnosed with inattentive type at age 41 and was on Adderall for a year. I then went off of it as I was trying to wean myself. The next year I developed migraine headaches for the first time n my life and could barely stay awake. I was diagnosed with a gluten allergy. As soon as I removed gluten, within a week my headaches were gone, I could stay awake all day and my attention issues vanished. It has now been 6 years and I still get a brain fog as soon as I ingest even a little wheat accidentally. PLEASE PLEASE try removing wheat, barley and rye (modified food starch, natural flavors, malt). It is much less labor intensive to go gluten free than it is to spend all that time in homework help and worry.

    • Absolutely! There are so many variables involved. I know that ‘gluten-free’ is sometimes seen as a fad, but the fact remains that it IS a problem for many people. It leaves them feeling foggy, unfocused, inattentive. And you’re right – if nothing else, it’s less labor intensive!

  4. Great article, and thank-you for being open about this. After 2 1/2 years of watching our son’s grades plummet, complete disorder in their house and forgetfulness, we started our 16 year old on medication. Our son was tested by a psychiatrist and was shown to have inattentive ADHD. We met with his teachers and all of them mentioned he was a great student, but failed to turn in his work. My son attempted school work, but was easily distracted and very forgetful. He had to be prodded for almost any task. After talking with 2 social workers and a doctor, all agreed that medication would help. Similar to you, we are scared to death about giving him medication. Our son is adopted and so we don’t know his genetic background and whether or not medication may affect him negatively.
    We are concerned that his grades will be so low (mostly D/Cs right now) that he will have a difficult time getting into colleges (he wants to attend college). Like your son, we hope he will outgrow the need for medication over time. We are hopeful, and are waiting to see if medication will have a positive impact on his organization skills and school.