Raising ADHD Kids Without Drugs

PillsA study was recently trending on social media that people with ADHD have shorter life spans. As I was reading the articles, my first thought was gratitude that I had never medicated my daughter when the issue was raised. She was five or six years old at the time. I’d been diagnosed with ADD in my early twenties, and was actually put on medication for it because it was causing insomnia. In the end I’d had to be weaned off the drugs when they gave me an irregular heartbeat. The damage was not permanent, and I’ve had a couple of EKGs since then that say my heart is in great shape. My daughter was diagnosed with ADHD three or four years later. She was a bit of a handful, admittedly, but even twenty years ago I made the decision that I would not introduce drugs into her life.

I wasn’t entirely certain at the time, but was under a strong impression that there weren’t any studies on the long-term impact of these brain-chemistry-altering drugs, and there was no way I was taking a chance with my child. She wasn’t going to be part of any unwitting experiment.

Maybe when I read the articles over the last week I jumped to conclusions, but I still can’t help feeling it was the ‘treatment’ of this disorder that has shortened the life spans of the people involved. Brain chemistry is everything in a human being. It controls every aspect of who we are, and what we are. It’s the reason we feel emotions, and it’s the reason we can reproduce. It simply handles all aspects of our physical, mental and emotional beings. So, when you play with that it’s bound to have an effect.

One common issue is that when we’re supplied with something synthetically, or without our body producing it on its own, our bodies ‘forget’ how to do it. A good example of this is cocaine use. It increases dopamine levels and if you do it for a long time and eventually stop, your dopamine levels are severely affected. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical, and when someone quits using cocaine they feel much worse than simply not feeling good. I’ve known a number of people who still have issues many years later.

Now think about how altering the brain chemistry of your child will impact not only their current brain, but also how it alters their development as they grow, impairing the brain’s ability to become what it’s supposed to become. I’m not an expert by any means, but in no way does that seem like a good thing to me. Drugs like Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine are so commonly prescribed that it’s almost a miracle these children make it to adulthood.

Another problem with this is that the kids never learn to exist without pharmaceutical intervention. They have problems learning the way the other kids are learning, so they’re drugged to keep them in line with the other children. Educators want to be able to educate, and they can’t do that if they have to teach a lesson in twelve different ways in order to accommodate the varying learning disabilities of the children in their classrooms. We can’t expect teachers to do that, unless they’re teaching classes specifically for students with those specific learning patterns. There are too many other children to be worrying about, and they just don’t have the time.

This is where parents come in, and where they should be in the first place. Now, I come from a position of strength and experience in my opinion regarding raising ADHD kids. I did things differently, but it worked. I didn’t use drugs. I just changed how I raised my daughter. I learned a lot about how to teach to an individual’s strengths, and to fair I’d already had years of practice doing it for myself. As a child I was in the gifted or enrichment program for my school district, yet I did not learn the way the other kids were learning. I had to swish things around in my own head in order to figure out a way for me to understand what was being taught. When it came time for my daughter to get a formal education, I used that technique to teach her. If one method didn’t work, I would look for a different one.

What we really need to do is take the time to figure all this stuff out about our own kids. We need to know our children, and that’s something parents should strive for anyway. Working with your child to figure out how their brain works will bring you so much closer to your offspring. You’ll understand them in a way that very few parents get to know their kids. There are a lot of different teaching methods. Some kids will learn best if something is turned into a song or a rhyme. Others can use mental tricks, like mnemonics or word associations. There are websites devoted to mnemonics that you can look to if you’re having trouble with a particular lesson. Some kids learn best by rote, or memorization, having nothing to do with singing or rhyming.

One of the things I felt was probably of the most benefit with my daughter was when we got rid of the television. Maybe that’s extreme, but there are so many studies out there linking television viewing with shortened attention spans I’m surprised that more parents aren’t making the connection when it comes to their kids with ADHD. It’s only logical that you wouldn’t want to exacerbate the problem, but all too often the TV is used as a babysitter, or a way to lull our children. So, instead of watching television I spent actual time with my daughter, teaching her during that time and figuring out how she learns.

There were no sudden miracles, and that’s something parents need to realize. If your child is legitimately attention-deficit rather than one of many who have been improperly assessed, the issues will always be there. This is why it’s vital that they learn the coping techniques that the drugs are robbing them of. By the time they’re not going to school anymore, they’ve already lost much of their ability to absorb new things. The younger a child is when you start figuring out coping mechanisms, the better they’ll be able to handle the real world where people do not have the patience to treat them with kid-gloves. When they enter the work force they have to be able to do the jobs they were hired for. The question is, do you really want your child to be medicated for the rest of his or her life? If they’re medicated as children, they will either be medicated as adults, or they will most likely be unable to exist as a functioning member of society.

Thankfully we had help from the school system as well. At the age of seven my daughter was already so stressed out at the thought of going to school that she was throwing up in the morning. She was in grade two. The school offered to put in her into a special needs class, and I finally decided that would be for the best. Kids can be cruel, and I was worried that she would be teased mercilessly. I’d been teased for being in the enrichment program, so I thought it would likely be worse for her. It turned out to be the right decision, though. Maybe the school handled it in such a way that the other kids didn’t know there was anything different about her and her classmates, but she never once mention other children teasing her about it. In fact, she was surprised to learn just a week or so ago that she’d even been in a class that was different from the ones the other kids were in.

After two years of being in a special-needs class, my daughter went right back into the regular curriculum and did just fine. It took the efforts of a few people, but between us we got my daughter through childhood drug-free. Now I don’t have to worry about her being more accident-prone because something got short-circuited as she was developing. I don’t have to worry that her likelihood of becoming a drug-addict is increased. I don’t have to be concerned that maybe those ADHD drugs would impact her body in a way that she might pass down to any children she might have. The chemical imbalance that is supposed to cause ADD and ADHD is apparently similar to what causes manic-depression and any number of other things. It’s something that runs all through my family so her kids are bound to be affected by it. However, the impact will be as minimal as possible. For one thing, she’s not been given potentially dangerous drugs, and for another, she’s learned coping skills that she can use if it’s necessary for her to help her own children.

The best part of having done things the way we did, is that I’ve got a really close relationship with my daughter. She knows bone-deep that I was, and will always be, there for her when she’s having trouble. A great deal of trust is there between us, and that connection is priceless to me.

Rain Stickland
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Rain Stickland

Rain Stickland is a Canadian writer and producer, who is overly fond of ferrets and other furry creatures.
Rain Stickland
Follow Rain
Rain Stickland

About Rain Stickland

Rain Stickland is a Canadian writer and producer, who is overly fond of ferrets and other furry creatures.
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One Response to Raising ADHD Kids Without Drugs

  1. Steve KovacsSteve Kovacs says:

    Great article and perhaps a very helpful one to many people. I have s friend who decided against medicating his son when told to do so. His son is turning out great without it and with tons of help from an expensive private school but drug free nevertheless.

    Again, great advice from someone who’s been there and succeeded.

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