Friday, June 6, 2014

ADHD: To Medicate or Not to Medicate?

The question of whether or not to medicate a person with ADHD or ADD is not a new one.  It is, however, still a controversial question, which I think is kind of funny.

In the name of full disclosure, I have ADHD.  It was diagnosed when I was sixteen and a junior in high school by the muckety-mucks at Children's Hospital in Boston, along with disabilities in both auditory perception and spatial stuff.  
   Myself, my brother, and my sister.  I had gotten us all in trouble with the photographer.  I look very sorry, don't I ;-)?

Prior to my junior year in high school, I was a mediocre at best student, except in English class and occasionally history.  I was tested in first grade because they thought I was gifted (and my IQ test bore that out) since I was caught reading Stephen King's Cujo under my desk instead of filling in the "J is for Jam" paper.  I was tested again in fourth grade because I had become an apathetic student, so my IQ was tested again; the number was almost exactly the same as it had been in first grade, meaning I was still of "superior" intelligence, so that's when I received the "lazy" label.  

That label stayed with me for a long time.  I couldn't articulate to the teacher why it was hard for me to stay in my seat, why I couldn't understand multiplication, why I knew my foot tapping irritated her and I didn't mean to do it but I just couldn't help myself.  If we were given four worksheets to do, I would get half of all four completed and receive no credit.  Even though I loved books, listening to the teacher read was torture for me because I couldn't understand what she was saying.

One of the most humiliating days of my life was when the teacher picked up my desk and dumped it out on the floor because it was so jam-packed with stuff.  I had no sense of where to put stuff, so I just crammed it in my desk.  To this day, sticky notes give me anxiety attacks, and binders make me cringe.  I couldn't finish anything I started, I couldn't complete a task without getting up to walk around, and I just in general made my poor teacher's life miserable.

And so my label as "lazy" became something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Until I realized the summer going into my junior year that I'd better get my ass in gear if I wanted to go to a good college.  School started, and I tried with all of my being to do well, but I could tell from the start that it was not going to make a difference.  I went home crying to my mom one day that I couldn't hear, that Mr. Smith gave us lectures in history class and quizzed us the next day to make sure we were taking notes, but I just couldn't *hear* the lecture.

My mom, who is a nurse practitioner, tested my hearing with her machine and it was perfect.  However, she also did something she'd never done before regarding my lackluster school performance--she listened.  

She set up an appointment at Children's, and I was diagnosed, and suddenly my entire pathetic school existence made sense.  The people there were great; they gave me some wonderful ideas, such as recording lectures to listen to later, finding an using an organization system that worked for me (in my case, it was putting everything in one folder so I knew exactly where it was and so I could go through and do what needed to be done), and so on.  

I got straight As my junior and senior year of high school. 

I should probably mention that my mother refused to allow me to have an IEP or a 504 plan or anything.  She did not want me treated as stupid, and she did not want me walking into college with a stigma (stigmas are the story of my life, apparently).  She also refused to allow me to be medicated for it.

One of my Facebook friends messaged me yesterday, and it really got me thinking.  

Here's the gist:

I've read in some of ur posts that you take adderral for I'm assuming ADHD. My 13 yr old son was diagnosed with that at the age of 6, I know some parents are against medicating children. We recently moved back to NH and the doctor he has has stated that just because he was on meds in the last state we lived in doesn't mean he will be on them up here. His behavior has been affected as well as his grades. What are your thoughts?

My thoughts are, of course, colored by my experiences, and I think it's especially significant to remember that I was not medicated for ADHD until I was an adult.

There is no question that my school experience would have been more positive if my ADHD had been diagnosed earlier and if I'd been treated for it.  I could have learned coping skills and strategies along with my ABCs and 123s, because the lessons that we learn young are almost always the ones that stay with us.

It is a disservice to just let kids (and especially teenagers) with ADHD rip.  Adults, too.  We are impulsive, we often hate ourselves for our actions afterwards but cannot explain why we (jumped out of a third floor window/jumped off a moving train/told your study hall teacher he walked like a duck/kicked your best friend in the face/smoked pot in the bathroom across the hall from the main office in high school/et cetera) and consequently find it hard to apologize, and there is a lot of loneliness associated with the condition because nobody truly gets you, or at least it feels that way.

We are actually contemplating having Ariel tested.  There is definitely a genetic link, and she exhibits many of the symptoms (I see them with both my mother heart and my teacher eyes).  Jeff used to scoff when I mentioned it, but he's starting to notice it, too.  Because she does so well in school, though, a doctor would be hesitant to medicate.  It's important to remember that only surveys given to people that see a child in different atmospheres are truly accurate.  If they surveyed Jeff and I, the results would be very different than what her teacher and her gymnastics coach would say.

I should mention that many non-medicated children with ADHD find ways to "hyper-focus" as it's the only way they can rest their brains.  For me, it was reading; I could sit and read for hours without stopping, without moving, without jittering.  A lot of ADHD kiddos fixate on video games.  For Ari, I suspect that gymnastics is starting to serve this purpose for her.

Anyway, what I responded to my friend was:

If the meds help, he should take them. I mean, I wasn't on meds until I was an adult (my mom didn't believe in ADHD lol), and it's a lot easier to learn coping skills as a child with the help of meds than as an adult (speaking from experience). Do you mind if I write a piece on this? I won't use your name.

Ask for surveys to be filled out by three if his teachers, and you should fill one out, and if he's on a team or club than the coach should, too. That gives valuable info. Sounds like you might need a new doctor

So what are your thoughts on this very timely issue?  Did the advice I gave my friend make sense, or am I full of manure?  

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