ADHD: Medication or Something Else?

by Guest Parent Blogger: Nancy Oliveira


My son was always extremely busy. But it wasn’t until he was in 3rd grade that the teachers at his school let me know the same thing. He was quickly evaluated after a brief meeting to talk about what I see at home and what they see at school. It was determined that my son has ADHD combined type. We chose to keep him medication free. We felt that we have been tolerating his business all these years without meds, so we didn’t see the point in medicating him. He is a great kid!! He DOES WELL in school!! Sure his teachers have and do say he is busy and is often easily distracted, but he is doing it… completely on his own…. MEDICATION FREE!!! I am so proud to say this because he is a lot of work in the course of a day.

So much energy is required just spending an afternoon with him, not because he gets into trouble, but because he is so bouncy… rolling on the floor (constantly!), squirming in his chair, speaking LOUDLY and incessantly and always BORED!!! He is also very emotional… and sometimes draining because of this. He complains a lot of stomach aches, arm aches, headaches, foot pain, leg pain, you name it and he has it.

How do you cope with a kid who is always complaining, super energetic, easily becomes anxious and ultra- sensitive?? Doctors would argue that meds are the only scientific proven way to treat the symptoms of ADHD. I chose to tolerate my son with lots of patience, love and encouragement. We reward the good not with cheesy stickers (he’s nine… c’mon!!!) but with extra time on the computer, later bed, etc… things he can relate too and things he prefers. We also keep a tight schedule for him. He knows that every day at 4pm is homework time.

My hope is that I can reach some parent out there that has a child that sounds similar to mine that either hasn’t gotten a diagnosis yet or is newly diagnosed with ADHD. Take it from me and do these things … immediately.

  • Get an evaluation (preferably from the school, and then follow up with a second opinion).
  • Gather all the information you can and then make it work for you and your family.
  • Realize that it is not always a good idea to tell your child that he/ she has ADHD.
  • Set up house rules and consequences for breaking those rules.
  • Set up a routine for your child with your child’s input.
  • Use plenty of praise to your child, lots of fairness, firmness and LOVE.
  • Get involved in a support group… even if you go a few times… to get ideas and to bounce things off of other people going through the same thing.

Good luck on your new journey!!!

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13 Responses to ADHD: Medication or Something Else?

  1. Janet says:

    Nancy, I enjoyed reading your blog. As the mother of a 2nd grade boy with ADHD and 4th grade girl with ADHD (as well as husband, mother and sister with it too), I totally agree with your suggestions of how to help your ADHD child. I just want to mention a couple of things. First, in all fairness I should disclose that we have chosen to give our children medicine. We see it as giving our children insulin or glasses. I just wanted to mention that I have read in quite a few places that adults who have ADHD can get very angry and resentful that their parents didn’t at least give medicine a try. These adults grieve for all the things they lost from not having the help of medication to manage their symptoms. Since the ADHD meds (except Strattera) leave the body completely once the dose has run out, why not at least try them for a short while and see if your son does better with or without them? My son can’t even sit in his seat to read without his medication. Now that he is on medications, he is finishing the 7th Harry Potter book. I prefer that, and he prefers to be on his meds because he (in his own words) “isn’t a troublemaker in class” when he takes them.
    I respect your right not to medicate, but I did want to make this point. Medications are not the only thing that should be part of a treatment plan for ADHD, but they can help set the stage for much-needed success, especially later down the road when the rest of the world is not so forgiving of our energetic boys!

  2. Melissa Allen says:

    I agree with Janet. I resisted medication when it was mentioned last year, but once our son’s inattention began to interfere with his ability to do well in school and caused his anxiety to increase because he wanted to do well, we decided to try Straterra. In only five weeks, he has become a more focused kid. I am not totally comfortable with the medication yet, because our son has a heart defect, but his cardiologist is involved and we are monitoring his tolerance. I also manage his day with a visual schedule and we keep to a routine so he can see what is expected of him. He does not handle schedule changes very well but hand in hand with the medication we started cognitive behavior therapy with a pyschologist to help our son learn coping skills to focus his attention and find more positive ways to express his feelings and emotions. Hopefullyt his combination will prove succesful.

  3. Cathy says:

    How do you know if your cognitive phsychologist is helping your child? What should they be doing? Should there be goals? and should there be a reporting to the parents? I give my sons phsych a call prior to each meeting with an update of recent issues, melt downs, anxiety but after one year, I’m not sure where we are. He occasionaly has me join them to discuss specific situations and he has good suggestions.

  4. kim hamilton says:

    Thank you so much for your article Susan!! We are experiencing the exact same thing with our 3rd grader! He is homeschooled as we dot want him to be labeled. He has not been diagnosed, but we are pretty positive he does have ADHD. Everything you mentioned is our son. He is very hard and it does get frustrating. It is starting to effect our family life. We are not sure what we are going to do. I am just so glad to read this. We have been so worried he is Autistic, etc.

    He is very smart…but it takes him so long to do his work. We had the same problems when was in the classroom.

    We need to seek help, but not medication at this point.

  5. Anne Marie says:

    Nancy, I admire you so much for your patience and dedication to your child. You are brave for being willing to put in the work that it takes to care for him. And I too was hesitant to consider medication for my son. First I tried everything else – diet, acupuncture, play therapy, physical therapy, even meditation. But my son’s symptoms bring him anxiety, and I didn’t want him to live with that. His doctor said one thing that made sense – she suggested that we try the medication at the lowest possible dose, so that he could feel the difference; he could feel what “normal” felt like. Then my son would have a reference to what he wanted to feel like. That let him understand more about himself, about how he could feel.

    Can you imagine what it must be like to be a kid with ADHD, how difficult it is for them to slow down, to focus, to relax and just enjoy “being;” how hard it must be for them “get to know themselves” in the quiet of their mind, to succeed in their emotional development because they can’t push the pause button?

    I am glad that your son is succeeding in school without medication. But could it be because he has dedicated teachers who put in extraordinary time and effort to help him? And if they are, are they doing it at the expense of other children, or of their own well being? Is it fair of us to require the rest of the world to tolerate our children exactly as they are? I don’t mean that we should drug and mold our kids into something more acceptable for society. I just mean that we should always keep in mind how our actions, and our children’s actions, affect other people.

    Perhaps he will grow out of some of his symptoms. But what if he continues to speak loudly and incessantly as he gets into middle school and high school? He will be shunned, teased, labeled as a troublemaker, and outcast. Is avoiding medicine really worth the price? I suggest that he is already showing the signs of strain; his physical complaints, anxiety, and sensitivity are something a child should not have to deal with. Are you causing him to miss the carefree joy of childhood because he constantly feels like he is “coming out of his skin? I compare it to how I feel on PMS days. I imagine being a child with ADHD would feel like having a major PMS day all of the time, without end.

    I admire and agree with all the steps you have taken. Consistency, structure, praise, and patience will help our kids develop into healthy and happy adults. I am not saying that your child must be fixed. I am saying that his neurological condition is making it very hard for him to enjoy his childhood, and that perhaps he could use a little help, along with your loving dedication to him. He is certainly a lucky boy to have you as his mom!

  6. Nancy says:

    thanks so much for sharing your stories and thoughts on this very controversial issue. What I hear from your stories is aligned with what the majority of parents and researchers say. Going the road of behavior modification alone… is a lonely road to travel. I definately hear about the many benefits of medication + behavior modification. For me, I need to become more comfortable with the notion of giving my child medication every single day to control and help the symptoms of ADHD. We have for so long made adjustments around his temperment as a result of his diagnosis. I think I hold onto the notion that he will come into his own and learn how to help himself.
    I am very afraid (very difficult to admit this) that the long term consequences of taking medication will take a negative toll not only on his self esteem (“there must be something wrong with me if I have to take medicatiion every day”), but also on his organs… and with a potential gateway drug???
    I realize that something else needs to done before he gets to middle school. I do want to make his life easier…, but I don’t want to not give 100% of myself to his cause if I can help it. I am not saying that you ladies have not or are not doing all you can for your child… because it sounds like you are wonderful, dedicated parents. For me, I need to drain all non- medicinal methods first. I am not dimissing the many benefits of medication and I may end up medicating… but not at this point. I thank-you for your comments and welcome your feedback!!!


  7. Janet says:

    Nancy, what is a gateway drug?

  8. Nancy says:

    Hi Janet,
    A gateway drug is basically a theory that states that your brain gets primed for harder drugs later on in life through the use of less “hard” drugs in adolscents. Strattera would hardly fit into this catergory of a “less hard drug”, but it is all still scary to think about.

  9. Mindy Mazur says:

    There are many different opinions about medicating your child diagnosed with ADHD, but I have to agree with Janet, Melissa and Anne Marie (both professionally and personally). I too like to use the medical analogy for example : you would not withhold your child’s need of eyeglasses or hearing aids. Then why would you withhold medications for a neurological impairment such as ADHD?

    My son was diagnosed when he was 6years old. The medication made a huge impact on his learning, behavior at home and in school and in being able to sustain friendships. He is now 23 and a carpenter. He chooses to stay on his medication because he uses power tools and wants to be as focused as possible.

    Something else to keep in mind is that many children with ADHD have co-occurring diagnoses. The most prevalent are other learning disabilities, anxiety and depression.

    I admire Nancy’s patience and commitment to keep her son drug free. I would suggest that she give medication a try to see how her son feels. It lasts only a few hours. I’m a firm believer in informed decision making. Doing a trial run would provide more information and could validate her current decision or change it

  10. Sarah says:

    I’m not exactly sure why Nancy would “try” her son on medication when clearly he is a bright young man living a successful like with ADHD?? I admire Nancy for taking the path less traveled and putting in the extra time and effort it takes to work with a child with ADHD. Medication is NOT the only form of treatment for ADHD. Behavior modification techniques, consistency, and lots of extra love and attention have also proven to be a high effect means of treating ADHD. Medication is the easy way to deal with a child with ADHD in some cases I understand it is necessary and often parents justify medicating their child by claiming it’s the only form of treatment!

  11. Nancy says:

    While I appreciate and welcome everyone’s thoughts and opinions on this issue I want to make clear that I have researched the pros and cons of medicating. For my son, and our family, we choose to not medicate. I am fully aware of the comorbidity aligned with ADHD. As I have said in earlier posts, it is not that I will never consider medicating my son, but for now we are choosing to obstane. In the future, if his symptoms become worse, or his academics appear to be declining, or socialization seems to be diminishing then we will revisit this very difficult decision.

  12. Janet says:

    I have held off responding for quite a while but I can’t get this out of my mind, so I would like to say a few more things. First of all because I had originally answered mom-to-mom I haven’t disclosed that besides having a family full of ADHD, I am also a teacher of 20+ years and a certified ADHD coach. I undertook coach training so I could better help my students and family. My students range in age from K-12th grade because I am a specialist (not homeroom) teacher in a small school. Therefore, I think I’m uniquely qualified to point out some things I have observed over the years.

    Many parents I’ve worked with have first tried non-medication interventions exclusively to deal with their child’s ADHD. None of us are happy to put our kids on medication. When the child continues to spiral downward, most eventually try medication and are stunned by the differences. So are the teachers.

    While parents often think their child is doing fine without medication, teachers rarely are completely honest about the situation in the classroom. I have worked tirelessly with non-medicated ADHD students because I care more than most teachers, and I can tell you that first, the student never does as well as when they are on medication, and second, the other students suffer. I simply cannot give them the attention they need while I am designing my class around an ADHD child. My job is to teach every child. So, while at home a parent may be able to ‘make adjustments around his temperament’ (Nancy’s words), the teacher cannot run the classroom around one single child. And that does not make me a bad teacher–it is my job!!!

    Nancy also states that she hopes he will eventually know how to help himself. That’s not necessarily possible, as shown by brain studies. If you place electrodes that measure brain activity on a person with ADHD, they already have less brain activity than a neurotypical person. This is why they are so physically active–they are seeking stimulation constantly. If you then give them a task to do that is not interesting to them–like an assignment that most kids would just ‘get on with’–their brain activity actually decreases, which means it is even more impossible for them to get started on it and sustain attention while doing it! So it is possible for him to help himself because his brain is working against him.

    Do I think we should just throw medication all ADHD children? No! Medication is only part of an intervention plan. Nancy’s suggestions at the bottom of her post are absolutely essential behavioral necessities. Medication is only part of the plan, but most of the time the other things cannot be achieved without first getting symptoms under control with medication first.

    I’d also like to comment on the ‘gateway drug’ theory. In all the years I have worked in this field, I have never seen a peer-reviewed study published that supports this theory. In fact, quite the opposite: when adolescents have not been properly treated for ADHD they seek out their own medications: hard drugs, alcohol, sex, cigarettes, etc. This has been published in numerous peer-reviewed studies.

    As Ritalin leaves the system when the dosage is finished, it can be tried without any fear. Ritalin is the most studied drug in history and is not the monster that some would want us to believe.
    It seems like perhaps the child should get the chance to see how he feels when he takes it, so he can be part of the decision making, since he is the one dealing with ADHD.

    I know I have written much more strongly than in the past and I do so not to offend others, but because I have seen so many children truly suffering from ADHD and it is heartbreaking to see them struggle. I’ve helped so many students get diagnosed, but in all honesty I’ve never had any that had much improvement academically and socially until they took medication.

    I write this not just for Nancy but for other that are also reading this, to give them more information. Good luck to us all—these are the most wonderful kids!

  13. Sarah says:

    Working with our our own children is especially difficult, not matter what credentials one may have. The gotten line should be centered around the fact that these kids require a lot of patience, a lot of positive reinforcement, and an extra amount of structure. We as parents… We are speaking as parents even though others of us may come into this discussion with a more robust background, just need to remind ourselves that these are children we are talking about. OUR children, and we have the obligation, powered with knowledge, to make informed decisions regarding the well being of our children. The disorder of ADHD will stay with them throughout life, but they absolutely can learn to adjust to life as they know it. Will it be difficult…at times, sure.. But it doesn’t always have to be. Choosing to medicate is a very personal decision, and one has to make that decision based on how they see their child, and how others (like teachers) view their child. Please also be aware of your child’s classroom teacher as they may not always be educated on ADHD, so take with they say with a grain of salt. If you child is truly having difficulty in the classroom you will be made aware!
    If you find yourself burnt out or close to the wick, if you see that your child is struggling in more than 1 area, then this is the time to try and come up with other options for the management of your child. Medication is not the only option for treating kids with ADHD. Please base this decision on the above mentioned thoughts and then talk with your family, your child, school personnel, doctor and most impotantly a clinician psychologist.
    Wishing all the best for our dynamic children!!!

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