I am a life learning Mama and this page is where I like to share things that resonate with me in some way along this wonderful life journey we are on ♥

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Over prescribing medication to children

A little while back I posted an article on my Facebook page about the over prescribing of prescription medication for children. Not just any medication but anti-psychotic. I shared with a comment about how very sad I was to read the figures and how wrong I felt it was. 100,000 scripts for children alone in Australia seem astonishingly high and I question whether all children prescribed these meds actually need them. I have been in the ADHD/ASD/Gifted/Specific Learning Difficulty arena for over 20 years now and have done much reading and research around this topic. I was married to a man diagnosed with ADHD, I have a nearly 20 year old diagnosed with ADHD/ASD/Gifted and with specific learning differences, namely dysgraphia and dyslexia (a lot of unnecessary labels me thinks and one has to beg the question why?! - but hey that is whole other discussion!) I have also taught in schools where children have similar diagnosis (or not) but are medicated and I have formed some strong views on it. They are merely my views woven from the journey I have been on to find me where I am now with my thoughts on all this and that being that there are far too many children being prescribed strong medications, with little research into the long term effects on the developing brain and those said same medications often having some quite extreme side effects that I have heard about through friends and from my own observations whilst teaching.  I chose not to medicate my son after doing extensive research, soul searching and discussion with him over the years. I loved my son as he was. As a child he shone to me like a beam of light, always happy, fun loving and kind. What were his issues? He had bucket loads of energy (some like to say hyperactive), he did things his way, questioned authority when he did not see a reason for something and questioned most things in life and the universe from how milk got from a cow to how a wheel turned to how one might travel in time - insatiable and never ending his quest for knowledge. His brain was a dynamo, always exploring and enthusiastic about everything! Why would I mess with that? He was 3 or 4 when he was first diagnosed with ADHD.  He had stood out as being different from when he started at nursery when he was 2 and I as a single Mum went to University to study for my degree.  I was often called in for "chats" about my sunny boy. They did not always have the same upbeat view of my son that I had.  They found him hard work. So hey why not medicate him? The interview where this decision was made took about 1/2 hour where I had to fill some questionnaires, (as did the nursery he was in at the University I was studying at) and they had a chat with me. They diagnosed him with ADHD (after hearing that his Father was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and was on Ritalin until the age of 16). I accepted the diagnosis but I rejected the need for medication. It actually filled me with horror. Why would I give me beautiful perfect child an amphetamine (with similar effects on the brain as speed and cocaine?) He was 3!! The response to my decision from the psychiatrist was that what I was doing was "an indirect form of child abuse as I was not offering my son the window of opportunity to realise his full potential" Wow! What a burden to put on a Mother's shoulders and on my shoulders it fully sat as I had no support being a single Mum and little family support as my Mother had died the year before the birth of my son. There were no support networks like there are now.  No forums.  No Facebook.  Nothing.  I cried an ocean of tears and toiled with what they had told me but my instinct was to say no to drugs. So I did. We continued on enjoying our life but with many phone calls from nursery, child care or whoever was looking after Samuel for me - mostly telling me what he had done wrong and how they could no longer look after him. It was a very stressful time for me and I questioned my decision often but that deep instinctual protective maternal force kept me on the path I had chosen for us. I have never said no to medication as I know it can help some children immensely but I felt for us there were other things I wanted to try. I looked at his diet and eliminated all artificial additives, natural siliciates and basically did an elimination diet where you take the diet back to basics and slowly introduce foods back in to see if there are any side effects from those foods. Food definitely did affect him but it was not a miracle cure. I also took him to a naturopath and we also added some vitamins, omega 3, minerals and they too helped but again it was not a "cure". And I say "cure" because that was often the word used about my beautiful boy. I started to question this and ask what was it they wanted to cure?  An insatiable curiosity and need for answers, a busy body that needed to move to learn, a self-motivated investigator who did not want to sit and do what others expected of him but wanted to seek out his own interests (and yes this was evident from the get go - which I think is the same for all children but maybe those with these diagnosis are a little more extreme in their behaviours).  I loved being with Samuel and he lit up my world. The heavy load came from others views and expectations of him and I was unwilling to medicate to appease them.

I had other reservations for the use of medication. I had been married to a man who was diagnosed with ADHD. I had not even heard of this condition until I met him. He was exciting, vivacious, interesting, fun, kind and thoughtful and I loved him very much. However, amongst the good, there was a darker side. He had a problem with drugs. When we first met it was only marihuana but then things seemed to spiral and once he had moved to the UK from Australia (where we had me) his drug problem had grown to include heavy use of ecstasy, speed and cocaine (amongst other things that I dared not know). His life crumbled. We were very young and his problem was out of control. My beautiful Mum had been diagnosed with cancer and neither of us particularly coped with the stress from that. He became erratic and violent and we were known to the police and a number of restraining orders were put in place after I had been the victim of domestic violence on a number of occasions. Our lives were crazy and completely dysfunctional. I was mourning the death of my Mother and he was dealing with his unresolved childhood issues of being a kid that was totally misunderstood and self-medicating turning him into a danger to himself and us. This was a beautiful human being who I saw as being damaged by a system that deemed he did not "fit". He was punished for being himself. He was always in trouble in school and spent much of his time outside the principal's office. He was also medicated with Ritalin. He said he hated it. He felt a lack of control and he hated the way it made him feel. Those memories of what he had told me and the tears I had seen him cry propelled me even more to walk a different path with our son who had been given the same diagnosis as his Dad. I wanted to rewrite history, not repeat it and right a wrong for Samuel's Dad, even though he was no longer in our lives having moved away and us not seeing him ever again from when Samuel was about 3. This was so important to me. His story scared me. He scared me. My son's diagnosis scared me. I wanted a different story for Samuel, so I chose a different path and thus began my feelings about the use of medication.

I also met a couple of other Mums whose children had similar diagnosis and they trialed medication and it was not the magic cure that so many touted. They had no fewer problems than my son who was not taking it. I also in time met another child again with a similar diagnosis and he was on a cocktail of medications and he was actually doing no better but worse than my son. I saw medication as being something that promised you the world and let you down over and over again. I also started working at a school as a teacher aide, working with 5 year olds. I always remember one dark haired little boy with the palest skin and sad eyes. He had been put on Ritalin to help bring him out of himself and to focus. What do you want a boy of 5 to focus on? Sitting at the table struggling to read because he is not ready or letting him play and play all day until his cheeks become flushed with joy and his eyes light up? I would choose the later. He would cry to me that he did not want to go to the office at lunch time for his little white pill. He would cry to me that they made his head hurt. I so wanted to stop that for him. I wanted to scream at the school. I wanted to scream at his mother for listening to those Drs who no doubt made her feel as guilty as they had me by saying that if she did not give him those little pills she would be offering him no window of opportunity in his little 5 years of life! What had gone wrong with the world that we find ourselves in a place that we feel the need to give drugs meant for grown bodies and brains to babes with precious minds that are still forming? It was all so hard for me to understand but again cemented my feelings that giving Samuel no little white pills was the right choice for us. I did not want to see my boy clutch his head in pain or cry with a complete lack of control over this decision. The powerlessness of childhood is something I struggle with. That little boy had no power over his destiny and I felt powerless to help the little man in my care at school other than to hug him wipe his tears and hear his feelings, but I could help my own son and I would and I did – drug free.  I am not touting this as being the best way but it was the way for us and in the same way that others don’t like to be made to feel guilty for medicating their children I don’t want to be made to feel guilty for choosing not to.  My son is 19 now, in his final year of a software engineering degree, has a girlfriend, part-time job and is a happy human being who likes himself as he is.  If the powers that be had had their way he would have been medicated and I think that where he is now shows that it just wasn't necessary.  So yes, sorry to those who got angry with me for posting the article that stated those stats and had the need to justify why medication is the answer for their children but this story is my reasoning for my big questions on why so many children are being medicated and most often than not to stay in an education system that cannot cope with difference.  Something is very wrong in that for me but hey we are all entitled to our own opinions and for the story of success that I give here about my own son I know there are others that will show how medication was right for them.  Life is never black and white but many shades of grey and one person’s truth is not the same as another’s and that is ok but at least try to be open minded and just accept that every opinion is just someone's perspective and their truth and every bit as real as your own..



  1. I'm with you Heather. I came to similar conclusions from my own experience with the mental health system. Here's a post from my very sporadic blog:

    1. Thank you for sharing your story too. I am sorry that you have had those experiences and hope that now with understanding your life is more peaceful and your sharing will help and support others xx

  2. An all too familiar story. I'm glad that you stood up for your son and that now he is doing well. It's odd how defensive people get when you question their decisions - or cause them to question them. But maybe a few families saw your FB post and hesitated on medicating their own kids. Speak your truth - that's the most powerful thing we can do in life!

  3. Thank you Sue for your supportive words. Yes, I do not judge other's for the path they deem to be the right one for them but this is our story and I hope it gives some people another perspective on whether or not they feel medication is the right choice for their child xx

  4. Heather, I couldn't agree more with you. I don't think you need to apologise to anyone. I noticed that it is often the people who choose to medicate their children - or have them medicated- really mainly want to pass on responsibility or don't want to put in the effort to deal with their child's speciality or quirkyness. It does take courage and effort not to go for the easy path of medication, because in my opinion that is all that it is. And then it is those people who medicate their children that scream when it is brought to their attention that they might be doing damage to their children, because deep down they know it, but they need to defend their decision which more often than not is based on lazyness (to do proper research or to take the time for their children and look for ways to truly help and understand them and work at the cause or seek to understand how they are special) and because they need to feel good, they look for someone they can blame and someone who is strong and brave enough to talk about the real issue or to show them reports and open their eyes is the easiest target.
    So please, do not apologise for being that strong, brave person. You have shown that if you put in the love and the effort, a child can find his or her own way and make actually use of their talents and genius in a way that a medicated child can. Now don't get me started on which the actual child abuse is. Reading your example of that young boy forced to take his white pills is making me cry. What a cruel thing to do...
    I better stop here, otherwise I get really upset.
    I too have been asked to medicate my child so that it would be easier for the teachers. Instead I took him out of school, educate him myself and spend some precious time with my son. The change is so significant that it can't even be put in words. I could write another testimony for not using drugs, but he's not yet old enough to show to the world. And then again I don't need to, as much as I don't need to justify my decision not to medicate...and neither does anyone else. Noone loves our children as much as we do and no one know better then they or we. End of story.
    Call me radical and stubborn and rigid...I don't care. Thanks for your wonderful article Heather!

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. Yes I always feel upset about the little boy who had to take those white pills. It really did break my heart. I often wonder where he is and how he is doing today. He will by a young man now. I know medication helps many but I sincerely believe with all my heart that we give out medication to children far too easily. There are other ways and you and I have proved that. So happy to hear what a change homeschooling has brought to your own family. That makes my heart sing <3

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