Are medications “shrinking” your child’s personality? - The Reynolds Clinic LLC

Closing Practice Letter

Are medications “shrinking” your child’s personality?

Let me say from the outset here that I am not against medications.  They certainly have their place in the treatment of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  However, in my opinion, they should be the treatment of last resort, not the first option you turn to.

Many, if not most children with ADHD can be helped without resorting to medications.  However, if you do decide to medicate your child, it should be done in conjunction with other skills-based interventions like organizational strategies, impulse control techniques, parent coaching and neurofeedback training.  And it’s not just me saying this.  This is the official policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the “mother ship” for all pediatricians practicing in the U.S.

However, we all know (and worry) about the side effects of many of these medications.  Some side effects are more problematic than others but the main ones have to do with appetite suppression, weight loss, growth retardation, irritability, anxiety, sleep disturbance, etc.  But as a psychologist, I am equally concerned about the effects these medications may be having on your child’s personality development.  Let me explain.

If your child has ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) or other significant emotional or behavioral challenges, more than likely, he or she has what I call a “big personality”.  They are creative, high-energy outside-the-box kids.  It’s what makes them both special and challenging to raise.

When you put a child like this on medication you’re likely doing so in order for them to perform better in school, complete their homework in a timely fashion, etc.  Even assuming that the medication has the desired effect, that is, helps your child get his schoolwork done without obvious side-effects, what is happening to that “big personality”?  They may be getting better grades but at what psychological cost?  Are they really the same child?

All-too-often, it seems to me, that all the stuff that makes your child cool and interesting are being “shrunk”, so to speak, in order for them to focus and get their schoolwork done.  But is that really worth the price?  I guess that’s for each family to decide.  I would much prefer to be able to help a child acquire the skills to channel their creative impulses, not diminish them simply for the sake of a better grade.

I often wonder what would happen if, say, Thomas Edison were an elementary school student today.  As a child, he was very hyperactive, probably learning disabled and generally a pain in the neck for his teachers.  In fact, were it not for his mother’s constant monitoring, he probably would not have graduated from high school.

What would we do with young Tom today?  Why, medicate him, of course.  But stop and think about that for a minute.  Would he still be Thomas Edison, the creative, out-side-the-box genius responsible for so many great innovations?

And how many little Thomas Edisons are we medicating today, right now, in classrooms across America so they can sit still and behave themselves.  Are we being fair to them?  Are we giving them a chance to be all they can be?  And are we diminishing them as well as our society? You decide.