We understand that getting to the bottom of what’s going on with our children can be nerve-wracking and stressful, especially when we suspect that our child has ADD or ADHD diagnosis. Some of the questions we hear most often from New Orleans parents are, “how do I know if my child has ADHD, and where can I get my child tested for ADHD in New Orleans?” This series is designed to demystify the diagnosis process, as well as provide New Orleans families with resources for getting your children evaluated. While these posts are very personal and real we are grateful to our partners at the Behavioral Health Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans for sponsoring this series.
The Essential ADHD Question: To Medicate or Not to Medicate
As a veteran educator of fifteen years, I have seen ADHD present itself in the classroom. Until now, my only experience with this disorder was what I observed as a young teacher without kids – distractibility, hyperactivity, loudness – and that medication “fixed” all of those things. ADHD seemed to be very black or white to me at the time. Looking back, I clearly lacked much knowledge on the subject as this disorder is anything but black and white for many kids and their families. Before I had kids of my own, one thing I swore I would never do was to medicate my own kids should they ever come to be diagnosed with ADHD.
ADHD: The Decision Not to Medicate
As a young teacher, I would receive many parent emails asking for my feedback due to new medication or apologies because so-and-so forgot to take his medication that day. In my line of work I saw ADHD medication suppressing those troublesome symptoms but also being used as a crutch for certain assignment apathy or an excuse for certain misbehaviors. I didn’t like ADHD medication being that Get-out-of-Jail-Free card. It seemed too easy for so many kids to constantly resort to that reasoning. For someone who couldn’t fully understand the parent perspective of it at the time, this common (and what I thought at the time to possibly be over-diagnosed) disorder resonated so poorly with me because of this abuse. I wanted my own kids to be accountable. But, it’s not just the accountability factor that bothered me. In fact, the biggest reason I had always found myself against medication was the loss of personality.
Just a few of years ago, I taught this one very loud, boisterous student. He commanded attention in any room he entered, and though he could be quite the distraction during class, he was always very charismatic and lovable despite his antics. He was filled with so much charm and personality. He brought a smile to so many every day. It wasn’t until that Spring, this student had a very important essay to write for my class. The day before the essay, he told me he would take his ADHD medicine just so he could focus and get it done for me. I didn’t pay much attention to the thought when he said it. But, that next day, he walked into my class with a very different demeanor than ever before, as if something was wrong. All throughout class, I continued to ask if anything was bothering him. He finally reminded me that he took his ADHD medication, and it just sunk in for me. Wow! I thought. This is awful. This major side effect changed him into an entirely different human being. If this student had taken his medicine every day, he wouldn’t be that charismatic, loveable goofball I’ve come to know and adore. I was so thankful he wasn’t medicating himself every day so that I could get to know the real him.
Now, did he get his paper done for me? Yes. Did he distract the class at any point? Not at all. But, was this the personality that so many would come to love and goof around with? This absolutely broke my heart! I didn’t like him this way. And, then, it made me wonder, how many other students did I teach that were taking their medicine daily and I never got to really know them?! How many of my quieter students have suppressed animated personalities in there somewhere?! This bothered me to my core. I would never want to strip my kids of their loveable and quirky personalities. No way! Not ever! Not happening!
…And then we were diagnosed.
ADHD: The Decision To Medicate
Everything I knew (or thought I knew) about ADHD and medication came to a halting stop this past year. I now have kids who are of school age and who have…ADHD. It’s a completely different perspective I have now as the parent and not their teacher. It’s complicated; it’s heartbreaking; it’s exhausting; it’s expensive. It is anything but black and white, especially when faced with the very hard decision of whether to medicate or not. All those years prior to motherhood, I thought I knew exactly what I would do in this moment. It’s a tough world out there, and there aren’t any accommodations in adulthood, buddy, so toughen up, buttercup! – or so I thought. Of course, I don’t want my child to lose his personality either. I want his teachers and friends to know and love him for the imaginative, charismatic, energetic goofball he is. But, to sit back and watch his confidence, his emotional state, his mental health be drastically affected by this monster taking over inside, was painful. What kind of human would I be raising in this non-accommodating world if he started to break and shatter on the inside right now? It suddenly became so easy for me. If medicating my son meant he could boost his grades and gain his confidence back to enjoy going to school again, then let’s do it. If medicating my son meant he would finally stop getting detentions and granted permission to attend the reward field trip with all of his friends, then let’s go for it! If medicating my son meant that we could experiment with a plethora of treatment options in order to find the perfect personality-inducing one for my son, then by all means!
It’s not a one-capsule-fits-all kind of diagnosis, and in 2022, the options, the therapy, the psych evaluations, the medications, the mindfulness practices, and the resources are practically endless. If one care plan doesn’t work, we can move on to the next one. And, we will continue to do so until we find that perfect balance of focus and personality needed to succeed! I do not judge mothers who make the tough decision to medicate nor do I disagree with those who do not. I’ve come to learn that there are a myriad of reasons to do one or the other and given the child’s individual mental state and family’s well-being, that decision will always be the right one for the family, despite what any teacher, babysitter, coach, or adult thinks from the outside.
You Suspect Your Child Might Have ADHD?
Thankfully, there are many resources in New Orleans for evaluating (and treating) children for ADHD.
The NEW, 51-bed Behavioral Health Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans is the only psychiatric program in the Gulf Coast region exclusively dedicated to the mental healthcare needs of children and adolescents in crisis. Outpatient services are also provided to compliment inpatient care and include assessment and treatment of psychiatric and behavioral disorders such as Autism, ADHD, and mood disturbance. Our team of professionals provides evidence-based management for a range of challenges facing children, adolescents and their families. Our program focuses on teaching and empowering patients to develop healthy life skills to improve their current function and future quality of life.