Should children with ADD or ADHD be medicated?

Children as young as age four can now have psychostimulant drugs prescribed for their Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADD and ADHD). Read this Ottawa Citizen column on the topic. For parents who have normal children this option will seem very scary. But, I have to tell you, there is another side to this story.

Imagine a toddler and young child who is so hyperactive and distractible that to simply let them outside in the yard to play is a guarantee of a disaster. That was the case with my son, born in 1965. As it turned out, later in life he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, but at a very young age, his strange behaviours and hyperactivity were simply called a “perceptual handicap”and “hyperactivity disorder.”

When he was in Kindergarten, for example, I got a telephone call several times a week. Once it was because he had nearly been hit by a car because he had been chasing it during recess. Another time he was somehow able to climb a pipe and get onto the school roof, requiring the fire department to get him down. And, on and on it went. Until the day he took a small dose of Ritalin.

Then, a miracle happened. Within two hours of taking the pill, he took a deep breath and looked at me and smiled said something to the effect: “Mom, I feel better. Can I watch television now?” And, unbelievably he sat there watching cartoons for a full hour. Prior to that time, he was only able to manage that task only for a few seconds to a minute — before jumping up and down or rolling on the sofa or floor.

I didn’t tell his teacher that first day because I wanted to see if she noticed anything. Well, she sure did. She called me on her lunch breaki to ask me what we had done since our sone was able to sit through story time for the first time ever. Meaning, he didn’t wiggle from one end of the room to the other. Plus, he apparently fell asleep during nap time –another first.

Yes, the Ritalin slowed down his appetite and his growth and yes, he woke up early every morning. But, he could cope! And, after he went off the medication gradually at age 14, he regained his appetite and slept as much as any teenager. Moreover, by the time he was 18, he was well over 6 feet tall. Plus, the good news is that at no time during the period he went off the medication did he display addictive or withdrawal symptoms.  

Does he still have difficulties concentrating? Sometimes, but we now know it wasn’t simply ADHD, it was several disabilities in one, officially called PDD-NOS.

So, parents, if your child or children are manageably hyperactive, then forget medication. But, if they are like my son, with or without the overt hyperactivity, think about them and what they have to go through on a daily basis.  My example is just one but medication allowed my son to survive into adulthood and middle age.

However, I do have a problem with giving a psychostimulant to a young person after they have reach puberty (e.g., to age 18) since it will not be acting in an opposite way as it does in young children, but rather as an actual stimulant. Meaning, it can become both physically and psychologically addictive. But, of course, if a person simply cannot cope with the noisy and distracting world around them and medication helps them complete college or university or succeed in an employment situation, then obviously it would be no different than any other medication. It is, afterall, about quality of life.