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A Tale of Two Children: From School-age Struggles to Adult Success

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By Emmy Fearn, M.A.

Medication was introduced into the mix when Dria was in fourth grade, when her teacher expressed growing concern about Dria's deteriorating social interactions with her peer group, a common symptom of AD/HD. While no parent wants to medicate a child unnecessarily, we researched the benefits and risks of stimulant medications and decided to start Dria on Ritalin®. In the mid-1980s when Dria was diagnosed with AD/HD, there was no negative media coverage that might have influenced our decision. We thoroughly explained the benefits of the medicine to our daughter, and explained it would help her behave as she desired. We compared giving Ritalin® to Dria with giving insulin to a diabetic child.

As young adults, both of our children continue to take stimulant medication to manage their AD/HD. To this day, Dria still remembers when she began taking her medication and was finally able to relax and pay attention in class. She could just "be herself." Until then, she had to work very hard to keep from misbehaving. After she started taking Ritalin®, her schoolwork and interpersonal relationships improved tremendously; she even began demonstrating substantial organizational and leadership skills.

Dria clearly understood the benefits of the medication (which at that time was not available in extended time-release form), and she took medication three times a day, including mid-day at school. Dria soon took responsibility for reminding her teacher when it was time to take her pill. Dria says now that she felt empowered with respect to her medication, and she always remained in compliance.

In junior high school, Dria became completely responsible for administering her medication. She was always competitive and wanted to do her best, and she recognized that the medication helped her to be her "best self." (Once timed-release meds were available, she made the switch.) Dria understood that she should never "share" her meds with anyone, so we never needed to "lock up the meds" or count pills, and we never "came up short".

When Jonathan was diagnosed as having AD/HD, we decided to start him on medication immediately. The results were remarkable. His teacher and choir director (neither of whom had been told about his medication) both commented within days on his improved attention and behavior. While we still had to deal with Jonathan's reading and writing deficits, his positive outlook soon returned. Jonathan also recognized the benefits of taking his medication and had no compliance or abuse problems. He benefited from the example set by his older sister.

My husband and I firmly believe the decision to give stimulant medication to a child with AD/HD is one that more parents should pursue. Appropriate treatment with medication frees the child from having to expend excessive mental energy just to stay in control without constantly fearing that he will be uncontrollably, unpredictably "bad." We encourage reluctant parents to reconsider the positive long-term effects of giving children the stimulant medication they may need to enable them to be the "good" children they want to be, so they can succeed to the best of their ability.

Family History and Awareness

Having two children with LD and AD/HD has presented challenges. But it also fostered in us an awareness that led to earlier and more effective intervention. For example, had we not been clued into the signs of AD/HD from our experience with Dria, Jonathan's condition might have gone undiagnosed for years. This is because his easy-going, less assertive personality made his inattention and impulsive behavior less disruptive in a classroom. Consequently, teachers were annoyed but not alarmed by his behavior. In the meantime, we had also discovered an undiagnosed family history of AD/HD and learning disabilities which led us to suspect something was amiss with Jonathan. Therefore, we took action to have him evaluated early on.

Our children have become independent, happy, and self-confident people who are able to fulfill their potential, because we identified and intervened before their self-images were permanently, negatively affected. Parents who intervene can influence the outcomes for their children.