Before I delve into this highly personal essay and explain my feelings on this extremely controversial issue, I feel the need to explain where I am coming from. I am an elementary music and art teacher and this will be my 7th year as an educator. I also have a master’s degree in special education. Just recently, my son was diagnosed with ADHD. Up until about 3 years ago, I did not believe that ADHD was a legitimate medical issue—even with my experience and education. Until just a few years ago, I thought ADHD was an excuse for bad parents to sedate their out-of-control children, and that it came as a result of inadequate discipline.
My son has always been energetic. My very first sonogram depicted my baby (only 3 months in utero) bouncing around in my womb like a ping-pong ball. Even when he figured out how to manipulate the safety locks on the kitchen cabinets at 12 months old, or when I caught him climbing out of his crib at 16 months, we’d smile and enjoy the excitement of our wild-child. When he began to play with his peers, I noticed that he was much more active than others in his age range. In social outings where my son would run around with ten times the energy of his peers, my husband would smile and say, “at least he isn’t boring!” We had absolutely no problem with his energy. I would happily let him outside to play.
By three years old, he was constantly in trouble at preschool for kicking, hitting, spitting at, and biting his classmates. After numerous evaluations and screenings, it was determined that his hyperactivity, aggression, and impulsive actions were out of range—even for a toddler. To my relief, he was finally referred to a psychologist. He had behavior plans in place at school and at home. I took him weekly for therapy sessions. Against my best efforts and my highest hopes, his behaviors did not subside. As a matter of fact, they continued to become more and more dangerous.
Preschool began calling me regularly to complain about his aggressive behavior. Even short trips to the grocery store became public shaming sessions and so I began to live life in isolation. I feared my summer break (whereas most teachers love the months of June and July) and I knew that I’d never be able to take my son to outings without being publically humiliated. Being spit on, kicked, smacked, punched, clawed, and verbally abused, became the norm for my husband and myself (as well as anyone else in close proximity to my child).
I did not jump to the conclusion of medicating him immediately. I held off as long as I could. However, it became apparent to me that the benefits far outweighed the risks and that my child might not survive due to his impulsive tendencies, without a medication. I felt particularly guilty about not medicating him when my son decided to run out into traffic when we were getting out of the car at school. Another instance, where he punched his 4 month old brother and drew blood, caused me to fear for the safety of my family.
Please know there were adequate punishments involved, too. Plenty of spankings occurred daily, every single toy had been removed from my child’s room, T.V. was eliminated, other enjoyable privileges were reduced significantly, and STILL there was no change in my son’s behavior. With the help of my colleagues, psychologists, educators, and a pediatrician; a well-developed behavior plan was implemented as well as visual reward charts. Consistent schedules were adhered to and I stopped allowing him to eat sugar. I tried gluten-free diets, I spiked his bedtime milk with melatonin, and I began seriously questioning my own sanity and doubting my parenting abilities.
I have finally come to fully accept that my son’s ADHD has nothing to do with my parenting skills and is not a reflection on me whatsoever. My child’s ADHD is a genetic condition that is beyond my control. The only thing I can control is how I choose to help my son overcome challenges. Choosing to medicate isn’t taking the easy way out. I will face backlash from many individuals, even within my own family, who feel that I have made an error in choosing to “drug” my child. Perhaps these judgmental individuals don’t understand the fear of watching their child impulsively run into traffic, as I have. Perhaps these individuals don’t mind that their child’s embarrassing and inappropriate behavior is negatively impacting their child’s personal relationships.
Medication is not a permanent fix. My son will struggle with ADHD his entire life. He will always need specific accommodations in order to live a fulfilling life. He still uses a behavior plan and a reward system to help keep his behaviors in check. His medication helps him understand the consequences of his actions because they reduce his impulses. Because I understand the severity of his disorder and comprehend the dangers of his impulsivity, I am making the conscious choice to medicate my ADHD child. I love him too much to allow his learning disability to negatively impact him any more than it has to.