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It's a touchy subject

March 10, 2008

by Jen Bakken

If you ask parents, educators, physicians, or other experts, there are many arguments for and against Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and medicating children.

As the mother of three children diagnosed with ADD, these arguments are of particular interest to me.

Although I have my own opinions, I am by no means an expert. I would never judge anyone’s decision to use or not use medication because I know how that feels.

I have heard everything from, “You should never medicate your children” to “How could you deny them the help they need?”

Medication was attempted with one of my children and major depression was a debilitating side effect.

After three medications were tried, all had the same outcome and even caused suicidal thoughts, I decided medication wasn’t going to work.

But, eventually it was an anti-anxiety drug and not an ADD medication that ended up making a world of difference for my child.

It took nearly six years to figure this out. Six years of depression, struggles in school, tears, and pain.

It was an awful thing to witness, as a parent, as your child tried this and that while being completely miserable.

Recently, its been suggested that my other two children should be on medication.

With 23 to 25 students in a class, it is understandably impossible for teachers to provide a lot of one on one to students.

One teacher even said, “You know, this isn’t going to just go away, don’t you?”

I think my children are blessed with wonderful teachers who I have a lot of respect for, and an amazing school district, but I can’t help but feel put on the defensive.

Another one of my children tried medication and also had a terrible experience last year.

Although he was able to pay attention in school, he was lifeless, couldn’t eat, ended up at Gillette Children’s Clinic diagnosed with acid reflux disease, and rarely even smiled.

He would beg me not to force him take the pill that was basically making him sick.

The doctor ended up putting him on another drug to help counteract what the ADD medicine was doing to his stomach.

Finally, after paying $80 a month to watch my son cry instead of play or eat, I took him off the medication.

His smiles returned and I rejoiced as I watched him play and be able to enjoy food again. The acid reflux symptoms went away but the troubles in school began again.

This is where we are today.

After two school conferences that basically mirrored each other, I’m left feeling like I’m doing my children a disservice by not medicating them.

Should I feel guilty that, at this point, I refuse to force my children to be pincushions while trying to find that magic pill with the perfect dose?

Although I do believe the decision to medicate requires input from educators and physicians I also feel that, as a parent, I know my children better than anyone else can.

Ultimately, I’m the one who has to console my child at night when they cry and declare,

“I’d rather be dead than feel like this.”

I don’t claim to know what the correct answer is and I teeter back and forth on this subject, but I do feel it’s a personal decision.

If you have children with ADD or ADHD and medication is working for them, I applaud you but that same applause goes to parents who aren’t sure medication is the best choice for their children.

Part of being a good parent means trying to help your little ones and look out for their best interests.

Sometimes your decisions can be questioned and it’s hard not to take it personally.

According to a report by Frontline published on the web site www.pbs.org, there are an estimated 4.4 million children and adolescents diagnosed with ADHD and approximately 2.5 million kids, ages 4 to 17, are currently receiving medication for the disorder.

In a book called, “The ADD Answer” written by Dr. Frank Lawlis, medical students are warned that sometimes the treatment can be worse than the disease.

Lawlis urges parents to understand the potential dangers in medications and claims only 50 percent of children with ADD can be helped through drug therapy. The list of side effects is long and alarming.

The debate over medication is lengthy with just as many for it as against it, and anyway you look at it, this personal decision is a touchy subject.