This is a difficult subject for me to talk about. Parents have the right to say whether their child is put on medication or not. That’s fine.
That said, if a child has diabetes, most parents would give their children whatever medication they needed. With diagnoses that fall under the “mental health” category, however, parents often just say, “I’m against medication.” I confess I sometimes want to ask them, “Really? When you have a headache, you don’t take Tylenol or ibuprofen?” But that would not be kind.
The most frequent diagnosis that I hear that with is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
I understand that there are doctors that might prescribe medication too quickly. I understand that many behaviors associated with ADHD might be improved with better parenting techniques. I also understand, however, that when a neuropsychological evaluation indicates the presence of ADHD, it’s not something that kids can just “tough it out.”
Young people with untreated ADHD have a higher incidence of dropping out of school early. They have a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, as they are self-medicating.
Even if they are being treated, students with ADHD can get labeled as being lazy because they don’t turn in their assignments. They can get labeled as unmotivated because they have difficulty getting started on projects.
The front part of the brain is what I call our “inner adult.” It helps us make good decisions. It helps us prioritize tasks, doing the most important thing first. It helps us stay focused. Those are the tasks that are often termed “executive functioning,” and with ADHD, they don’t work well.
These students often don’t turn in assignments because they didn’t remember. They started towards the front of the room to hand in their assignment, then someone said something that distracted them, and they forgot about their assignment. If you think that’s silly, have you ever walked upstairs to do something, then forgot what you were going to do when you got up there? Or opened the refrigerator then forgot what you got in there for?
What happens is on the way up the stairs, we start thinking of something else. We become distracted. Students with ADHD experience that even more than typical. So many parents come to me and say, “I must have memory problems because I can’t seem to remember anything.”
Usually, it’s not a memory problem, but the fact that they are working full time, trying to run a household (including buying groceries, paying the bills, cleaning…), keeping up with the schedules of two or more children…. Their lives are distracting. Society promotes multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is anti-focus. I believe the whole popular wave of mindfulness is an effort to be able to learn to focus again.
If the general population finds it difficult to stay focused, imagine what it must be like to have ADHD!
I think we’ve all been in the situation where we’ve had a task to do that was going to take focus. It’s 11:00 at night, and we just say, “Oh, I’ll wait until the morning to do it.” Individuals with ADHD are at 11:00 p.m. all the time. Nearly every task they need to do is going to take more effort than most people would need to put forth. If they seem “unmotivated,” it’s because it’s 11:00 for them. It’s likely not because they don’t care.
Young people with ADHD often can’t stop the impulse to (add just about anything here). Problems arise when they’ve dropped out of school, they develop a negative opinion about themselves, and they believe they might as well commit crimes. Okay, that might not be the actual order of events, but they do tend to have a negative opinion about themselves, and it is not unusual for them to engage in criminal activities. I worked at a school once where the students had severe behavior problems. Most of them had parole officers, and the majority of them had diagnoses of ADHD.
On the other side of that is the parents’ option to fill the prescription the doctor gives them to help their children’s brains. By giving their children medication for ADHD, the chance for success increases, and the chances of dropping out and getting into drugs or alcohol decrease. Why would parents choose not to increase the odds of success for their children?