Why We Medicate Our Son with ADHD
by Shannon Aronin on July 8th, 2015

​My son is on medications. Before I had a child, before I had this child, I too had opinions about how ADHD was so “over-diagnosed” and “over-medicated.” I was wrong.

It seems like every week another article comes out questioning the validity of ADHD and suggests that medication is the wrong way to go and it’s all about diet or poor parenting. Never mind the fact that we can see brain scans showing differences in the ADHD brain. Moms in particular take the heat, but of course every depiction of psychological care start with analyzing the mother-child relationship. And it’s crap. These days I hang out almost exclusively with other special needs families and I see a lot more families withholding treatment from kids who are suffering than I do parents who nonchalantly drug their kids. The decision to medicate your child is not something taken lightly, nor should it be. Also, stimulants are EXPENSIVE! Boo’s medications cost $600+ every month, out-of-pocket. That’s more than many Americans pay for rent. Medication is a gut-wrenching choice, the time spent tweaking the medications to determine the right regimen is grueling, and it is far from being the easy way out.

There is no guarantee that my child will turn out better than your un-medicated child with ADHD. At all. But before you judge me, consider that untreated ADHD in childhood is associated with a host of risk factors and negative life outcomes, including problems at school, work, in relationships, driving records including accidents which are prone to be more serious, eating disorders, trouble with the law, anxiety, depression…  To medicate or not medicate, neither choice is risk-free.

This article, which claims French Kids Don’t Have ADHD, is circulating again on social media. And it’s baloney. More than that, it’s dangerous and hurtful. It’s actually refers to pharmacological treatment as psychological band aids. It questions the validity of the American diagnosis rate of 9% of all children. The CDC got that number based on parent reported cases in a phone survey by the way, hardly a rigorous study and nearly guaranteed to lean high. But taking it at face value, why is that so hard to believe? Autism has risen at an absolutely astonishing rate. My personal opinion is that a confluence of genetics and environmental factors that we have barely scratched the surface of understanding is causing the dramatically increased prevalence of these issues. And the comparison to the rise in autism or other psychiatric disorders is not idle: ADHD, autism, Bipolar Disorder, Depression and Schizophrenia all share the same genetic variations. But please, tell me more about how your naturalist says the problem is all gluten's fault.

There are some common sense dietary measures. Boo doesn’t get caffeine. Sugar is limited. We try to avoid food dyes, particularly red food dye, because the science on that is sufficiently compelling to me and after all, who feels well after lots of food dye? Think about the last children’s birthday party you attended with a technicolor rainbow cake. How did you feel after eating it? Was the color of your next poo a little disturbing?  But ultimately, medication has been proven to be, hands-down, the most effective treatment for ADHD.

So let’s talk about this claim that French kids don’t get ADHD. It’s hogwash. In many areas, there is much America could learn from France, including their approach to most healthcare and social services. But when it comes to psychiatry, they are woefully behind the times and stigma is rampant. For example, they are still using psychoanalysis to treat autism despite the science to the contrary or the example of everyone else that applied behavior analysis is the most effective treatment. This stigma has long-term, devastating consequences. Untreated ADHD leads to a host of other mental health disorders, including substance abuse. That’s interesting because while all these French children are going undiagnosed with ADHD they supposedly don’t have; French men have the EU’s highest cancer death rate, closely linked to excessive alcohol use and smoking.  That’s a pretty profound correlation.

The author of the French Kids post is totally unqualified to make this assertion. Marilyn Wedge has a PhD in social, not clinical psychology. It’s basically a fancy anthropology degree. And she may “publish,” but it’s not peer-reviewed. She’s a shill with an anti-psychiatry agenda. There is about as much reason to trust her opinions on this matter as there is Tom Cruise. Peer reviewed, scientific research has demonstrated that the real rates of ADHD are pretty stable across the world. More peer-reviewed, scientific research has shown that by far stimulant medications are the most effective treatment for ADHD.

MY opinion is equally irrelevant by the way; don’t take my word for it. However, the links I provide are solid sources you can evaluate for yourself. Meanwhile every single one of the links in the French Kids story links back to Psychology Today, not nearly as impressive publication in terms of peer-reviewed publication criteria as you might suspect. Ms. Wedge has three books for sale, A Disease Called Childhood, Suffer the Children: The Case Against Labeling and Medicating, and Pills are Not for Preschoolers. Sure her motives are pure, really. This is a new blog and the first time I am blogging about this issue. I don’t plan for it to be a running theme. I have no advertisers, no books to sell, no relationships with pharmaceutical companies.

Does that mean my first response is always to medicate? NO! I hear stories of pediatricians who spend five minutes with a 4 year old and push Ritalin. What the heck? You should never medicate anyone, much less a child, without significant testing to determine what the problem is. ADHD is far from the only thing that might be wrong and other possible causes should be ruled out. Comprehensive neuropsychological testing is a great place to start. Not only will it help determine a course of treatment, an exhaustive report on how your child learns (which if your child is school age the district will pay for from an independent provider of your choice; this is a legal requirement) is absolutely invaluable in making useful environmental changes such as easing them into transitions, breaking tasks down to their smallest component, various therapies, and finding ways to serve as your child’s pre-frontal cortex until their executive skills functioning catches up. For some families, these modifications work and if the kid isn’t highly symptomatic, great. If you really believe going gluten-free has fixed your child, good for you. Maybe you are in favor of both, no judgement here. The decision to medicate is so hard, and it is a very personal choice.

Not to be an alarmist, but your window to make that choice is actually quite small. If you wait until your kid is failing classes in high school, medications may help but much of the lifelong damage is already done. Similar to the research on pediatric mood disorders, science has theorized (not proven on this count) that early intervention and limiting the exposure to the effects of this brain disease in childhood will reduce the presence or severity of symptoms in adulthood.  What’s more, untreated ADHD undoubtedly leads to many more discipline problems, adversely affecting peer relationships, feelings of anxiety, education and self-esteem. This too has long-term consequences on adult mental health.

The solution to our mental health crisis is not rocket science. Raise awareness, reduce stigma, and increase access to quality care. That’s it. But articles that delegitimize ADHD and suggest Americans are somehow inferior for seeking treatment for our children are dangerous, hurtful, and simply inaccurate. 

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