If you are parent to an ADHD child, then in all likelihood you have asked this question! Most likely when you were only two or three months into your child’s diagnosis and treatment!
Let me see if I can answer the question for you.
I’m going to start by trying to clear up some of the confusion around medication.
The thing to keep in mind when it comes to Ritalin (methylphenidate) is that it has been studied and used for well over 50 years, and when correctly prescribed for the correct diagnosis, it works very well. Regular Ritalin is metabolised by the human body within 4 hours. It does not build up in the body and does not need to be prescribed by weight. It does have side-effects, but all forms of medication have side-effects and everyone reacts to them differently. What Ritalin does- when properly prescribed and monitored– is to chemically assist the brain to send the messages it’s not sending on its own. Once the brain is sending those messages correctly, a child or adult correctly diagnosed with ADHD will be able to focus on instructions, learning, and behaviour modification therapies.
Simply put, the ADHD brain is unable to properly process instructions and input, and trying to teach a child how to react to situations or complete tasks and manage time will be all but impossible without some form of intervention. Sometimes medication is the intervention that is needed.
If you have the right doctor- and here I must stress that a pediatric neurologist or a psychiatrist isn’t automatically qualified to treat ADHD– and the correct diagnosis, Ritalin may help your child. You will very quickly be able to see if it will make a difference for your child. If you do decide to try medication, I would suggest you start with at least a 10 day trial. Less than 10 days may not be an accurate depiction of whether it helps your child simply because he will react positively to getting extra attention from you and his teachers and anyone else who may be aware that he is on a Ritalin trial. Within 10 days however, the “placebo effect” of the extra attention will have “worn off” and you will better be able to tell if the biology of the medication is actually helping him.
Does that make sense?
Now this careful and close monitoring in the months following a child’s diagnosis will actually cause positive results, even without medication. You’re suddenly giving a lot of extra attention to a child who thrives on it. Many children who are newly diagnosed and treated for ADHD, Aspergers and other similar issues have a phenomenal couple of months where their treatment team thinks they’re finally sailing along, but after a month or two they’re right back to square one! This is largely because the first few months of extra focus from parents and teachers, extra focus on behaviour modification and different discipline styles by parents and so on, starts to slack off when things start going well- and this puts everything back where it started.
Its not that “the meds isn’t working anymore“, its that the consistency isn’t there anymore.
When you- as a parent- believe your child is finally doing okay on treatment, you stop watching him like a hawk and carefully monitoring his homework and how his morning get-dressed-for-school-eat-breakfast-leave-on-time routine is progressing.
Am I right?
You cannot slack off on this focus and consistency! Without a holistic treatment covering all aspects of a child’s life and personality- the medication will not make any kind of difference. You need to make sure he eats properly. You need to make sure his teachers know he has a diagnosis and a treatment plan and how they can work with you. You need to supplement a dreadful appetite with vitamins. You need to set up schedules and calendars to aid your child’s time management. You can’t ease up when things are going well- this is exactly when your added focus will REALLY start making a difference because the child is receptive to learning!
Yes, its exhausting. Yes, it goes on for years. Yes, you can treat your child without medication. But don’t blame the medication for all the issues. And please, for your and your child’s sake, please don’t watch him waiting for negative side effects and behaviours to manifest. See the good as well. Your child will gauge his reaction to his treatment and doctors based on how you treat them. If you are negative about meds and specialists, how can you expect your child to be otherwise?