So I have been reading a lot about ADHD lately. Like a ton; it seems like everyone suddenly has an opinion on this. One guy says it doesn’t exist (it does), another says it’s a product of our culture (maybe), and a third touts that generally people are overmedicated and holistic methods of managing symptoms are best (I am half with that guy). Oh, and none of these people are therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, or have any mental health training whatsoever. That does not mean that they are not allowed to state their opinion (some of them are pretty good), just take what’s said with a grain of salt and check your sources. Here is the truth about ADHD.
1) It’s real – ADHD is a mental health disorder, and it is one of the few that can also be characterized as a condition. Why? In someone who is truly ADHD, the front region of their brain (frontal cortex) is not functioning properly. This part of the brain regulates attention, concentration, and helps to control impulses. So…when it’s not functioning like it should? There’s your ADHD. Here’s the kicker though – a child’s brain is in a constant state of flux and is always developing. What does that mean? Most people grow out of ADHD; they really do. Their brain eventually kicks into gear and gets working, or they learn to effectively manage the symptoms. Have you ever met a child with true ADHD? If you have, you’ll never forget it. Science suggests that ADHD occurs because of two factors – genetics and environment. Take from that what you will, but know that it’s real.
2) Every child DOES NOT fit the criteria for ADHD – I’ve heard this one a thousand times! “So the symptoms for ADHD are impulsivity, inattention, and/or extreme hyperactivity? That sounds like every child!” Usually spoken by some smug jag who’s trying to make a point about something they don’t truly understand. You’re right Mr. Jag – every child does fit into that category you just described. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM a.k.a. Bible of mental health) lays out the symptom criteria for every diagnosis there is, and it lists those as the symptoms for ADHD. Oh, ADHD is in there but there is one very important qualifier that people (looking at you Mr. Jag) tend to leave out of their diatribes. “The symptoms must cause significant impairment in at least two environments.” Significant impairment is the key phrase there. Every kid is impulsive, inattentive, and hyperactive – to a point. With ADHD you are looking for symptoms that are outside of the norm. Oh, and it has to occur in at least two environments. Not just school, and not just at home. If you have ADHD, you have it. There is no “off” switch. Here’s a little experiment you can do on your own: find five elementary school teachers and ask them if ADHD is real. They know the scoop!
3) Most kids are not overmedicated and medicine actually helps them– We’ve all heard the horror stories. “My child was like a zombie on medication X.” “It made him lose his appetite and he couldn’t sleep at night.” These things have happened and they are potential side effects of some ADHD medicines. I am truly not trying to minimize the very real and scary things some people have gone through, but there are solutions to these problems. The first solution? Tell your doctor if your child experiences this. Any doctor, with any sense in their brain, would change your child’s medicine at the very first sign of a problem. There are a lot of different medicines out there and they all react differently with different people. That’s why best practice is to prescribe the least powerful medication (in a certain family of medications) and start with a very low dose to determine its effectiveness. The second solution? Stop giving it to them. Taking medication, ANY medication, is about weighing your choice in dealing with the symptoms vs. the side effects of the meds. If you don’t like the side effects then stop administering the medication.
And speaking of medicine…we have come a LONG WAY since Ritalin and Adderall. There are a ton of different medications out there that have helped a lot of people with ADHD. And please, for the love of everything holy, see a psychiatrist if you are going the medication route. Pediatricians are very smart people and often times wonderful physicians, but they are not specialists in psychotropic medication. When you have a heart problem do you set up appointments with your primary care physician? No! You want to see the cardiologist…get me the doctor with the specialized training!
There are two proven effective treatments for ADHD – medication and behavioral therapy (and the best results are when they happen simultaneously). Stimulants, when compared to other medications, are relatively safe and harmless. It seems ironic to me that the parents I meet who are most staunchly against medication for their child are also the ones who pump chemicals into their child’s body through sugary drinks and artificial foods, drink 75 oz. of coffee per day (caffeine’s a drug), and consume enormous amounts of sugars – but that’s a different blog.
4) Parents can help – Parents feel helpless a lot of times when their child is diagnosed with ADHD. They feel like the medication does its thing and that’s it…let’s pray it works. Parents, you can be proactive! Here is what you need to focus on. 9-5-2-1-0. 9 hours of sleep, 5 servings of fruits/vegetables, 2 hours or less of screen time (TV, tablets, phones, etc.), at least 1 hour of physical exercise, and 0 sugary drinks. What else can you do? Promote mindfulness – that means help them pay attention to details. Have them write down chores or tasks, ask them to detail their day (the more specific the better), and challenge them to use creative thinking whenever possible. Parents – you can help with this! Remember that your child’s brain is ever-changing, and you play a HUGE role in that change.
5) The professionals just want to help – I am a therapist and a school counselor. I just want to help. Yes I get paid to provide mental health services to children so it seems I have a vested interest in having them diagnosed with something. I don’t get paid enough to carry out a conspiracy against the rest of the American people to have all children medicated and under mind control – give me a break. There aren’t secret meetings where we discuss how we can best lie to parents and trick them into believing our intricate web of deceit – grow up. I am a damn professional who cares about kids, and I want to help you. Almost every therapist I have worked with and known feels the same way…we want to help. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and pediatricians – they want to help too. We don’t all agree on everything, but we truly want the best for your child and your family. Is the best thing for your child medication? Maybe. I can’t say for sure because that’s your call. I can say that it’s irresponsible to not even consider it and check the facts. Even if you read Mr. Jag’s blog.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment below!