I can still see this father, sitting on the couch in my office, looking so sad and anxious as he asked me, “Dr Gluckman, where is my little boy? The teachers are happy since he is on medication but he is not the same little boy he was before.” Then there is the mother who told me that she went to fetch her daughter a little early from a party. While she was visiting with the mother of the party girl, she noticed that her daughter was sitting quietly, away from the other children. In the car on the way home, she asked her why she didn’t want to have fun and join in the activities. Her daughter replied fervently (and very intuitively), “Mom I do want to have fun! But I think this medicine doesn’t let me.” What about the child that was pretending to take her Ritalin each day for many months, but was actually hiding the medication because, it “made her feel bad.” The interesting thing is that she was coping without it!
So let me begin by saying that I am not anti-medication. I am in favor of avoiding medication for learning, behavior, and mood issues unless it is used as a last resort. I am in favor of using medication only if the doctors and parents have dedicated time and resources to first trying a credible different approach (or approaches) that have failed to help the child feel good, learn easily, and be healthy.
I am somewhat cautious about using the word “trying” in the previous paragraph, because I would guess that there are thousands of parents who have “tried” to avoid medication and explored other ways, but gave up too soon and took the easy way out because:
- It seemed to take too long to show results.
- It was hard work.
- It required too much dedicated commitment.
- They couldn’t find the right healthcare practitioners to help them with this.
- The teachers were insisting that the child needs medication.
- It was too confusing.
- It disrupted the family.
Too often I hear, “I tried other things but nothing worked.” Before you say something like that, ask yourself:
- Could my attempt to explore other solutions to my child’s challenges be truthfully described as a courageous, consistent, committed, informed, and dedicated effort?
- Did I hang in there long enough to give the things I was trying a chance to succeed? Or did I give up too soon because it was tough?
- Did I truly understand and know all about the approach I was trying; what I was doing, why I was doing it and what improvements to look for?
- Are we, as parents, part of the problem? Are we unintentionally passing our own stress on to our kids?
If you can, in all good faith, answer yes to questions 1, 2, and 3, and no to question 4, and still your efforts failed, then you may have to consider medication.
So while I am aware that there are instances where medication is required, I believe that the percentage of such cases is pretty small. Here are some staggering statistics. (Please note that I am only using Ritalin here to make a point; the same applies to all other medications for stress-related conditions). Between 1990 and 1998 the use of Ritalin increased 800 percent. In 2008, doctors in the Unite States wrote an estimated 20 million prescriptions for Ritalin. It is becoming so commonplace that it is even being described for children as young as age four. All of this despite some negative side effects and the fact that we don’t even know what the long-term consequences of Ritalin could be and that the diagnostic tools for assessing ADHD are subjective and have not changed in fifty years! Today ADHD is the leading childhood disorder in the world. Yet, a recent research project in the United States indicated that over a million children were misdiagnosed as being ADHD.
Don’t you think it is time for parents to take charge!?