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Let me ask you a question. If you found out that your child had diabetes, would you deny him insulin? If he were short-sighted, would you deny him glasses and tell him to just sit nearer the front of the classroom?
Well, then why, if your child were diagnosed with ADHD, would you decide to withhold medication?
Since I wrote about my own ADHD diagnosis, I have been overwhelmed with private messages from distraught parents whose children have been diagnosed with ADHD. Their distress is exactly the same. They are afraid to medicate, and are certainly not going to share the diagnosis with anyone for fear of the negative stigma. Their relief upon reading my post was almost palpable. For most, it was the first time someone had spoken about medicating ADHD in a positive light.
This really made me sad. Incredibly sad. All I could think was “Those poor kids.”
Before you judge me as a drug-peddler, let me begin by saying that I absolutely understand the fear of the scary monster drug, “Ritalin.”
Hell, if you Google it, you’re led to believe you’re a selfish parent who wants to zombify her child for her own convenience. You’ll believe it’s a drug used by lazy, inept parents and teachers to tranquilise naughty children who really only need a good old-fashioned spanking. In fact, if you take all the online literature at face value, there’s no way you’d agree to administer any ADHD drug. Giving your child Ritalin would be tantamount to child abuse. Right? In my humble (but educated) opinion, you’d be wrong.
Let me be clear – ADHD medications are extremely dangerous when administered to children without ADHD. Herein lies the major issue. I believe that there are masses of children wrongly diagnosed with ADHD and to give these kids Ritalin would be highly irresponsible, to say the least. If a ‘normal’ child took Ritalin, it would be as if he had been given cocaine. Yes, these ADHD drug are not safe in the wrong hands.
Guess what? If you gave a ‘normal’ child insulin, it would be dangerous too – but would you deny a diabetic child insulin because it’s dangerous to kids who don’t have diabetes? OF COURSE NOT.
I think the issue with kids and ADHD is twofold. Firstly, the disorder is misunderstood. Public awareness (or lack thereof) is horrendous, making it a disorder associated with ‘bad’ kids. Secondly, ADHD is too often misdiagnosed (often by a teacher or a GP – horror of horrors!) and therefore inappropriately medicated.
Myth #1: Kids with ADHD are always hyper and badly behaved.
ADHD manifests in two distinct ways – a hyperactive body and a hyperactive mind (and obviously, there are many people with ADHD who are somewhere in the middle). The hyperactive kind of ADHD child cannot sit still. No amount of stars on a chart or smacks on the behind will change that. Again – the diabetic analogy: try offering a diabetic child a star on a chart for every time he successfully keeps his sugar levels where they need to be just by using his will-power. Ridiculous? Of course. Yet every day, parents and teachers are expecting kids with ADHD to do just that. Newsflash: He is not a naughty child. He is not a stupid child. He is not a disrespectful child. He has ADHD and cannot sit still for long periods.
As for the ADHD child who has a hyperactive brain, this child is often not diagnosed at all. I was one of them. This child is well behaved, bright and looks like a perfect student. She tries extremely hard, is always ‘busy’ with her schoolwork and is eager to please. This child is also in a very painful and hateful internal war with herself. She knows she is intelligent, she knows she has the ability to do what is asked of her, yet when she is faced with a complex task, she is overwhelmed and often can’t even begin, let alone complete the task. She is frustrated and anxious. These kids are often overlooked because they do well at school, they don’t cause problems and they try hard, so teachers and parents think they are fine. They are not.
A child with ADHD lives in a whirlwind. Imagine if someone took your diary and tore out all the pages and threw them into the tumble-drier and then asked you to tell them what you’re doing next week Thursday. You’d know that the information is there somewhere, but getting it would be virtually impossible. Now, imagine if you could snap your fingers and suddenly that diary was magically bound together and in your hands. That’s the effect of Ritalin on the ADHD brain.
When children with ADHD are tested (properly, by a registered clinical psychologist and a pediatrician – not by a teacher or a GP) and given an accurate diagnosis and if their parents agree to medicate them, they soar. I know how they feel. I understand how liberating it is to get medicated and finally be able to accomplish things I knew all along I had the intelligence to achieve.
A child, properly diagnosed with ADHD – at either end of the spectrum – medicated appropriately, has a chance. He can think straight. He can sit still. The same child, unmedicated, will have a brain that feels like it’s in a constant spin-cycle. He will feel like a failure. He will struggle to follow a simple chain of commands – not because he is stupid or disrespectful, but because his brain can’t hang onto the list long enough to follow through. He will live in fear of disappointing someone, he will be constantly reprimanded for not listening and he will be profoundly sad because he knows he is capable of better. I know this. I lived with a chaotic brain for 36 years and lost friendships over my inability to focus on conversations and remember dates and appointments. This led many people to conclude I was simply uninterested and self-involved. I hated myself for letting them down and lived in abject fear of the next time. There was always a next time.
Myth #2: Ritalin turns kids into zombies.
Yes, if wrongly administered. Again, give a diabetic child the wrong dose of insulin and you’re not going to get a good result.
The problem is not the drug! When a person is diagnosed with ADHD, most specialists will prescribe Ritalin in the lowest dose possible. The patient then has to start with a half a pill, building up day by day until the drug begins to work. Parents, children and the prescribing specialist work together in this process until the child is on the exact right dosage. Trust me, it is as clear as day when the dose is right. In my case, it happened the day we had a family gathering. I sat at the table with tears coursing down my cheeks because, for the first time, I was able to talk to the person next to me without using every ounce of my effort to not be distracted by other conversations, the trees outside and the sounds of the kids playing in the next room. I was shocked that this was how other people experienced life – that it could be this easy. It was like I had been given glasses and I could see clearly for the first time in my life.
When medicated correctly, people with ADHD are amazingly productive. Since my diagnosis, lists don’t terrify me. I can actually be trusted to get things done! I am alert, positive, energetic. Zombified? No way. Sure, if I upped my dose, that could happen. Take any drug incorrectly and you’ll suffer horrible side effects.
I am not telling you to medicate your kids. I am not telling you not to medicate your kids. I am asking you to educate yourself before you make that choice. I am begging you to not buy into the anti-Ritalin hype. DO go get a second opinion. DO question everyone. DO educate yourself.
Whatever you decide, please educate the people around you. Kids with ADHD do not deserve the negative stigma attached to the condition. They are good kids. They are intelligent kids. They deserve a chance to thrive. Whether they are medicated or not.
Let’s start a conversation. Have you or your child been diagnosed with ADHD? Have you decided to medicate/not to medicate? Please share your experiences.
Michelle is a copywriter, artist and mum of three children under ten. Read more of Michelle’s work at They Call Me Mummy