To Medicate or Not to Medicate

Any decision to medicate your child should be made in consultation with your doctor. This is the statement educators are allowed to say, in meetings, with parents. Beyond that, suggesting the child needs medication, or which one he or she should be taking, is not the educator’s domain.

Teachers may share their observations of the student and strategies they have employed.

When a student experiences ongoing academic struggles, parents or teachers can recommend the student be referred for evaluation for special education services. Before that occurs, the team of teachers needs to meet as an Educational Support Team to consider and review the student’s strengths and challenges, and what strategies they have tried, which have been successful or not successful in helping the student. When this logical first step has occurred and the student is still experiencing adverse effect in school (poor grades, testing scores, etc), teachers or parents may recommend the student be evaluated for special education services.

An evaluation begins with an Evaluation Plan Meeting. Team members convene and discuss what they are seeing and which areas they would like the evaluator (school psychologist) to review. Two months later, after the school psychologist completes a lengthy process of testing the student, surveying parents and teachers and compiling the results based on their professional expertise, the team will reconvene to review the results at the Eligibility Meeting. Perhaps the parent had provided documentation of an existing diagnosis, and the evaluator and team’s purpose is to review the affect on the student’s progress in school. If the student is found to have a disability which has an adverse effect on their educational progress, an Individualized Education Plan will be created. The team will detail the strengths and challenges of the student, abilities and disability, learning goals, accommodations and special education services.

The parent may address medical needs in consultation with their physician, and this may occur before or after a comprehensive school evaluation is conducted. Depending on the age at the time of the diagnosis and progress in school, the  parent may already have a medical treatment plan. In the rare instance the school suggests the need for medication, they will be expected to provide and pay for it as a treatment.

You may encounter the teacher who says, “In my many years of experience working with children, I can see clearly this child needs medication and would benefit from it.” Or, “This is the most ADHD kid we’ve ever had here. His life would be so much better on medication.” Perhaps you agree, but a medication treatment plan is handled medically, as are its side-effects. If you’re having a conversation with a teacher about medication, it’s an opinion, and they’re really not supposed to share it as their expertise is around instruction, not medicine. Seek your doctor’s advice and become educated around ADHD medical treatments, as it’s a field with continuous research and developments.* The Children and Adults with Attention -Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(CHADD) advocacy groups suggests pharmacology treatment may be successfully followed up with behavior therapy, offering a longitudinal look at medically treating ADHD through a person’s life.

If you’ve tried medication for ADHD, and the side-effects were so awful you’ve abandoned medicine completely, yet the teachers are clamoring for a solution and asking you to consult your child’s physician, you have two options. One, consider that advances have been made in treatment for disabilities and perhaps a medicine could be found to benefit your child with as minimal side effects as possible. Two, maintain your ground against medicinal treatments and prepare yourself by knowing what alternative strategies can help your child and use them. Ask the teachers what they have tried that has helped your child be successful. The American Academy of Pediatrics research findings indicate psychotherapy is a necessary first-line treatment for depression in children. The research details the potential benefits and drawbacks of FDA-approved prescription treatments.

This is a brief overview of the basics when determining whether or not to prescribe, especially when a diagnosis of a disability becomes a school discussion. There are many more specifics to consider based on the child, circumstances, diagnosis and so on. It is never an open-and-closed conversation, and you are a key player on the team in determining how to treat. Keep your mind open and learn of reputable organizations dedicated to education and research. We have a great deal to learn about medical treatment of autism and bipolar disorder.
(*Please note, the link to the CHADD article on ADHD medical treatments references Strattera, a non-stimulant medication for ADHD which has mixed reviews. As mentioned, please keep current on the research into benefits and side-effects of medication you consider including in your medical treatment plan, in consultation with the prescribing doctor.)

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “To Medicate or Not to Medicate

  1. Nevertheless, when I tried meds for my children, I appreciated the input of my oldest daughter’s teachers. After we had Mary start taking Ritalin, they contacted me within two days, saying that she was much more tearful, her speech was even more difficult to understand, etc. We stopped the medication immediately. Their input was so important because she was taking Ritalin only during the day, during school. I would not have known about the side effects without their observations.

    • Absolutely, consult with the team. Their input on what they’re seeing is critical. Then, consult with your physician. ADHD especially requires input across settings and a good provider will seek input on continued progress. Thanks for your input, and best wishes to you and your family as you navigate life with ADHD.

      • Our diagnosis was autism. After we had ended the trial, one of our social workers said that often drugs used for ADHD were not effective or had adverse effects in children with autism. Sometimes I think that doctors are grasping at straws when prescribing behavioral meds for children with autism.

      • Ann, I did not see it was you…time for me to start the reading glasses I think! I have recently witnessed just what you’re describing, and it is the reason why I’m on here sharing these topics. Parents know their child, educators know the classroom and doctors know medicine. It may appear docs do not know medicine because they don’t know the classroom or the home. It’s got to be a group effort. You bring up an excellent point. What role is the doctor taking or should take in understanding the day-to-day impact of medicine treatment? Thank you for your conversation.

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