This week, for the umpteenth time, I heard someone say: “I don’t do medicine!” Their intent was to make a pronouncement in the middle of a conversation about having a child who had been diagnosed with ADD. The statement that was made, and what I heard, may not have been the same thing at all. I want to state that clearly in the beginning, because I have very strong beliefs regarding this topic. My beliefs are based on being a public school teacher at the high school level for twenty years, being married to an elementary school teacher all my married life, AND being a therapist who has dealt with children and their families for over twenty eight years. I feel as though I have heard and seen it all. I find this statement is among the most frustrating for me for many reasons.
First, I hear the implication that those who “do” medicine for their children with this issue are taking the “easy way out” and medicating their children so as not to have to deal with them or their problem. I have heard many times over the years the statement: “Teachers just want to medicate those kids so they don’t have to teach them.” I would say to you that teachers are teachers because they want to teach kids. Every single day they get up and go to work to teach kids. There are far easier professions which pay more money. For a teacher to stay in teaching and NOT want to teach kids is unthinkable. But, what dedicated teachers “learn” is that kids who have learning disabilities and disorders such as attention deficit disorders are carrying an extra load of bricks on their daily journey that they “MAY” not have to carry.
Where is the honor and necessity to carry an additional burden while you take the same journey that other students take, just because your parents do not “do” medicine? There are questions a concerned parent must ask: What does the medicine do? How does it work? Does it have side effects? Why was it recommended? How does it affect the child as he/she attempts to learn and become socialized? Then the parents must ask themselves: Why would you want to make your child work so hard (harder) compared to other kids, if it is not necessary?
Secondly, I hear a parent who has not done their work in terms of learning about the illness or diagnosis. Nor, have they done their research about the medicines that are used for these disorders. To me, their statement is not a statement of philosophy, or parental integrity, it is a statement of their ignorance about parenting. Who can calculate the negative cost to a child of not being able to constrain his behavior and focus his attention in class and at play? How is this children ostracized by his classmates? How many messages of unacceptability and frustration does he receive which are never explicitly stated by anyone verbally? How much frustration and rejection does he “feel” from teachers who are attempting to calculate how to reach them, in spite of their handicaps, and to help them blend into a classroom grouping of twenty other children? How much does he internalize rejection or lack of acceptance because he cannot focus enough to learn how to behave, read social cues, or achieve like the rest of the class?
Thirdly, in my years of working in schools and with families, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard parents say that their child was ADD. In reality, they had never had the child examined or diagnosed by a professional! This disorder, in particular, is biologically based, and is not a disorder of character or will! I have spent years working with concerned families to teach all the members of the family skill-sets for survival. Teaching the children and their families that they are not broken, they just learn differently, is paramount. They must learn how to compensate for these differences. The goal of working with ADD children is to develop compensatory skills! This task becomes insurmountable if they cannot focus enough to learn these skills. It opens a flood gate of tangential questions: How do they learn to work around their problems of focusing and attending so that their intelligence and social acceptance are maximized? How do the child and the school learn to compensate for the issues a child’s parents have? In so many, many cases, the parents struggle with issues of organization or focus, as well. Sometimes the parents are angry and explosive, the parents don’t have a clue how to train and educate the child so that the child learns to focus, function, and maximize their potential.
It requires many engaged, dedicated and loving participants to raise any child. It is especially difficult when you have a child with a learning or social skills issue. DO NOT TRIVIALIZE THESE ISSUES BY DISMISSING THEM IN THEIR ENTIRETY BY SAYING: “I DON’T DO MEDICINE.” Get a clue. Get an education. Get some help. Your child is entitled to it and deserves it. The research shows that those children who are most successful in dealing with these issues receive help in three ways: medicine, therapy, and having a structured environment.