Independence Day

by James Wiley, MD, FAAP –@adddoc

As Americans we are celebrating our nation’s history of Independence– you know, when we told our mother country she no longer had to tell us what to do, supervise our every move, or run our financial affairs.  As parents of kids with ADHD, we look forward to the day when they can claim their own independence and make good decisions, and manage their time, relationships and finances without us. Unfortunately, there are times when ADHD, especially when untreated, can delay this independence.  It takes longer for our kids to “grow up”, mature, and take care of their own business in a responsible way. They impulsively want that independence, yet spring forward without considering consequences. This usually doesn’t go that well (for them OR for us).

How do we get them ready for independence? We provide structure, help them build organization strategies, encourage good nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep, pay for tutors/coaches, count to ten (a lot), and say lots of prayers!

Do you know the one thing that helps bring independence more than anything else? Daily medication use.  We have always been told “pills don’t build skills”. It’s true.  But those with untreated ADHD have a hard time paying attention, remembering, and following through on that skill building!  So it turns out that daily treatment of ADHD coupled with structure, good parenting, and a supportive school environment will build skills for independence over the months and years.

Why daily medication? Simple math. There are 180 school days in the year, which leaves about 185 non-school days. Treating only on school days means ADHD is in charge of kids for half of the year. Therefore, it stands to reason that development of these skills will lag behind their peers and each year they fall farther and farther behind. Some parents feel that taking a “drug holiday” while not in school will help with the side effects of medication. While this may be true in some instances, in the majority of cases the benefits of the medicine outweigh these side effects. Some feel that since the child doesn’t have to “sit still and pay attention” on weekends there is no need to medicate. While it’s true that weekends are usually more lax, don’t forget that ADHD usually affects social relationships as well. Plus, bodies need consistency, so resuming medication after taking a “drug holiday” during the weekend or summer can cause inconsistent effectiveness or increase negative side effects.

Consistency in medication leads to consistency in daily life. If at age 8 they aren’t ready to manage their book bag and at age 12 they have trouble managing the locker, then how can we expect them to manage the car when they are 16 and a roommate at 18?

This Fourth of July can be the beginning of your child’s successful path to independence from ADHD.  Find someone who knows how to treat ADHD without changing your child!  And if you are one of the many adults procrastinating about getting your own ADHD treated, make a call Tuesday and begin to claim your own independence.  

Have a safe and happy Independence Day weekend!