ADHD Medication is Not an "Easy" Fix

ADHD Medication is Not an "Easy" Fix

In a discussion about late afternoon mood “crashes” and emotional management, my client wondered aloud, “But I thought when she went on medication it would make things easy for her. Isn’t that the point?”

Sometimes, my clients raise questions or share stories that help me identify where parents might need more information or understanding. They see a familiar experience in ADHD world from an angle I’ve not considered, and it offers me a new perspective for learning, writing and teaching.

This is one of those times.

We discuss the pros and cons of medication with families quite frequently. It’s a topic of considerable controversy, and it almost always comes up – eventually — when working with a parent of a child with ADHD. (At ImpactADHD, by the way, we take the position that medication is one of the many treatment options available for ADHD, and that parents should be supported in whatever informed decision they choose on the subject.)

But I’d never seen the topic quite this way before. As I responded to this client, I realized that the purpose of medication –frankly, the purpose of ALL treatment options for ADHD — is not necessarily to “make things easy.” The purpose is to take things that are HARD for our kids, and make them EASIER.

This is an important distinction. When we assume that we can give our child a pill – whether it’s a stimulant or a supplement – and they will magically find it easy to focus their attention and restrain their impulses, we are doing them a disservice. For most of us, managing ADHD is not a simple task that is easily resolved by the flip of a switch, or the swallowing of a little blue pill. It is a complex medical condition that requires understanding, oversight, management and a multi-pronged approach to treatment.

No treatment – not even a pill – is going to make life “easy” to manage with ADHD. It’s critical for parents to understand that medication for ADHD – again, frankly, all treatment options – are not an EASY fix! It takes work and attention, and even then, it’s not always easy.

Our kids struggle to focus and pay attention. Even when they fall short of our expectations, they are generally working HARD to try to fulfill what’s expected of them. It’s just harder for them than it is for most kids. All the supports we put into place are an effort to make it easier – but believe me, that doesn’t make it easy!

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard my kids say to me, “but Mommy, I was trying so HARD!” My fifteen year old’s frustration is palpable when she knows how hard she’s worked and is disappointed that her grade hasn’t reflected her effort. Now, to a typical parent, her effort might not have looked particularly heroic. But when you consider what she’s struggling with just to get her brain to focus in the first place, it’s pretty amazing what she DOES accomplish!

I often tell parents that we must remember, at the end of a long school day, that our kids have been working hard all day JUST trying to hold it together, sit in their seat, pay attention, and maybe even get some work done.

I recall picking up my daughter after school in 7th grade, when the hormones were raging and the school was not a good match for her. Every day, the van door was barely closed before the tears were too much for her to hold back. Every day, she needed to let it out at the end of the school day. Every day, for an entire school year, it was everything she could do just to show up, go to class, and try hard. Let’s just say, it took everything I had, too.

My client’s daughter is getting better reports from school, and is able to stay in her classroom without wandering about. She is using her planner, and getting some of her school-work done. This is significant progress, and reason to celebrate.

My client’s daughter is also exhausted at the end of the school day, worn-out from consciously trying to listen to the teacher and sit still in her chair. And she is more emotional than before, exhausted from the effort and frustrated in a new way.

She is consciously trying to do things all day long – things that are expected of her, but are also hard for her. The medication seems to be helping her accomplish her goals. But make no mistake: there’s nothing EASY about it.

So what’s our job as parents, in the face of this understanding? There are many things that we can do. We can shift expectations in the afternoons and evenings, taking into consideration what our kids are dealing with. We can help them balance the load of schoolwork and home chores, making sure that they’re set up for success by getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising.

And most of all, we can normalize their experience. Acknowledge that it’s not easy for them, and show compassion for how hard your kids are trying. At the end of the day, nothing is likely to be more motivating than that!

Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster, founders of ImpactADHD.com, teach/write about practical strategies to parents of “complex” kids with ADHD and related challenges. To help your kids find the motivation to get anything done, download their free parent’s guide, The Parent’s Guide to Motivating Your Complex Child.

This article was originally published at ImpactADHD. Reprinted with permission from the author.