Look at that handful of pills. So many colors and shapes. Fact is my children take every last one – from stimulants and anti-depressants to mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics.
You see, they experienced trauma in womb. Genetics might also be at play. As a result, they have organic brain disorders – with diagnoses that include ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder.
But with the right medication, their brains function effectively much of the time. In turn, they behave more appropriately at home and school.
And to think, I was once anti-medication.
Good parenting was enough in my book.
For years I emphasized consistency at home and school. I threw in lots of patience. I showed compassion. Although the resulting structure reduced anxiety and increased focus, concerns remained.
Then I learned about food chemicals – artificial flavors, colorful additives and preservatives. Not good for anyone, especially kids who already have a chemical imbalance in their brains. Although a special diet decreased hyperactivity and improved self-control, concerns still remained.
In spite of my good intentions, I needed to do something more.
But the decision to medicate didn’t come easily.
Soon my children found themselves in hot water almost every day at school – even with the best possible teachers who were trauma-sensitive. Even with behavior plans in their special education IEPs. As I watched their ongoing frustration, increasing isolation and mounting failure, our well-versed pediatrician listened to my stories. After a long year, she responded.
“Psychotropic medication can never replace hands-on parenting and therapy.”
“Yet it can make a difference in children with a complex mental health conditions.”
Since my sons’ behaviors at school were now causing them to miss opportunities – both academically and socially, I no longer hesitated.
And I’m glad I did.
After starting a time-released stimulant, my son Andrew no longer played rough at recess. Instead of being excluded from peer activities, he was picked to play. The positive effect also carried into the classroom. Andrew stayed on-task most of the day – completing assignments to the best of his ability.
His teacher noticed and named him student-of –the-month.
The only change was the new medication.
For my son Michael, his situation became urgent in fourth grade. Physical and verbal aggression erupted. Classmates grew afraid – immediately shunning him. And by being constantly removed to the less-stimulating resource room, he missed valuable instructional time and fell behind.
When deemed a danger to himself – after routinely banging his head on the floor and bloodying his face, he endured a week-long hospitalization. The psychiatrist added a third pill to his daily cocktail – a new anti-psychotic medication.
Within weeks Michael successfully returned to the regular classroom. He later passed his state-mandated assessments.
Like his older brother, the only change was the right medication. One that worked for him. No one else.
Still not convinced? Think about other health conditions. A child with diabetes may need insulin. A child with strep throat may need an antibiotic. In similar manner, a child with an organic brain disorder may need psychotropic medication.
Not just any pill.
The right pill.
On the other hand, the judgment cast upon our children’s invisible disability can intensify their challenges – with words they long remember. Self-doubt takes over.
The anxiety – particularly from past trauma – can be very real. The right pill can calm the brain. On the other hand, the wrong one can cause irritability.
And by middle or high school, our children might even begin self-medicating to numb their feelings. To achieve an un-natural high. Their newest friends become alcohol, marijuana, someone else’s painkillers, cough syrup, aerosol cans – whatever they can get their hands on.
That’s why parents must be empowered wuth information – never blamed or coerced.
1 – Learn about your child’s mental health conditions. Do they have a proper diagnosis? What medications are available? Remember that one size doesn’t fit all. And a stimulant doesn’t work for everyone.
2 – Find a psychiatrist (or pediatrician familiar with mental health) who doesn’t dictate. Do you feel comfortable sharing concerns and suggesting alternatives?
3 – Reduce the stigma of mental health. Start educating your child with sensitive, age-appropriate language. Weight gain or weight loss can be a side-effect which can add challenges.
4 – Follow instructions on pill bottles. Missing a dose can ruin your child’s day – and yours.
5 – Know the facts. A drug that works well on one child may fail miserably on another – possibly intensifying symptoms. Learn about your options. Gene testing works well on some children – identifying specific drugs to avoid and specific drugs to try, because they can be metabolized.
6 – The first medication may not produce the desired results. Trial and error is often required to find the not only the best drug but also the correct dose.
If a new drug intensifies behaviors in the first few days, it probably is not a good fit. It may never be a good fit.
7 – Over time a combination of drugs may be necessary. Meanwhile, a drug that works amazingly well may lose its impact or turn negative. An annual medication evaluation is essential, as is regular blood work.
8 – Maintain open communication with teachers. They have valuable feedback on the effectiveness of the medication during the school day.
9 – Make sure your child drinks ample water at home and school to reduce headaches and drowsiness. With hydration, the medication also works better.
10 – And watch your child take their pills – without being intrusive. Pills that aren’t swallowed cannot be effective. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special” Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s progress in writing a book about raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow his son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page. Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold