ADHD, also known as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes and imbalance, deficiency, or inefficiency in brain chemicals, effecting certain regions of individuals brains (Edmunds, 2018. P.152.). The three principle characteristics that make up ADHD are; impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention (Wender, 2002). Hyperactivity characteristics can be seen in fidgeting, restlessness, non-stop talking ect. Impulsivity is characterized by speaking without thinking, displaying reactions without restraint, acting out without thinking about consequences and so forth. Inattentiveness is comprised of forgetfulness, having a hard time staying on task, easily distracted, and having a hard time fallowing instructions (Wender, 2002). Students diagnosed with ADHD can have on stream or a combination of streams in their diagnosis. Individuals can only be diagnosed with ADHD from a psychiatrist; this process is comprise of a history of the individual from parents, teachers, coaches, an interview with the child themselves, as well as input on the child’s current behaviours based on rating scales (Edmunds, 2018 P.152). According to facts Canada, “ADHD conservatively occurs in 4% of adults and 5% of children worldwide” (CADDAC, 2018).
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ADHD is a disorder that effects all areas in life, including the classroom, however, there are multiple ways to help these individuals control their outbursts, and maintain a high level of functioning through forms of therapy and medication. This paper will be discussing the benefits and limitations to medicating individuals with ADHD, and my stance on the matter.
Among the multiple avenues to helping children who have ADHD, medication is a very prevalent option. ADHD medication acts as a stimulant by increasing levels of two brain transmitters: norepinephrine and dopamine. “These Neurotransmitters wake up the front and pre-frontal lobe braking functions, allowing them to exert better executive function in areas such as distractibility and self-control. They provide self-control by waking up (stimulating) the brain’s own brakes” (Kutscher, 2008. P. 102). Contrary to a sedative, ADHD medication allows individuals to stimulate the parts of the brain that help them stop (brake) getting distracted, fidgeting, ect. And focus on the task at hand, improving their performance.
To give a bit of context of the type of medication students with ADHD use, I will introduce two types. The first being Ritalin; this is a stimulant medication containing methylphenidate, and is taken via pill, multiple times a day. Ritalin essentially stimulates specific neurons throughout the brain that are not working as they should. The neurons that they target are ones that tell us “when to pay attention to specific activities, and when to ignore other ones” (Edmunds, 2018, P.156.). Secondly, there is Concerta; this is a one-pill a day medication that also contains methylphenidate, and is a stimulant medication.
Among my research done, there is always one prominent question; what are the advantages and disadvantages of medication? As with any medication, there are side effects that come with taking it. According to Edmunds, research shows several downsides to ADHD medication, including but not limited too; insomnia, which is a sleep disorder, usually characterized as getting little sleep or having difficulty falling asleep, Loss of appetite is seen in a lot of cases, more so towards the beginning of introducing the medication to the body (Edmunds, 2018. P.156). Loss of appetite can also result in some weight loss early on in the stages of starting medication, this side effect has resulted in concerns of growth stunts (Edmunds, 2018. P.156) Mild changes in personality has also been seen as a side effect, bringing forward behaviours such as irritability, and overall negative behaviours. Additionally, Anxiety and OCD symptoms are sometimes seen as worsening as an effect of the stimulants (Edmunds, 2018, P.156). Some more minimal side effects associated with the medications are headaches and stomach aches.
Although some of the side effects are scary and seem daunting, “The risks of using these medications are very low,” says William W. Dodson, M.D., a Denver-based psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD. “The risks involved in not treating ADHD are very high. These include academic failure, social problems, car accidents, and drug abuse.”
“Eighty percent of children who take stimulants experience some appetite suppression, but this side effect usually goes away on its own within six months,” says Dr. Copps (Van De Loo-Neus, 2011.P.2).
On the other hand, we have the benefits of these medications. The benefits brought by these medications are seen in all aspects of life; in the classroom, at home, in the workplace, and more. As Edmunds explained, medications have a significant improvement in the area of attention span, and they are proven to reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity (Edmunds, 2018, P.157.). In the classroom, Edmunds noticed that teachers had mentioned a resolution of prior problems with “incomplete class work, distractibility, and disruptive behaviour” (Edmunds, 2018, P.157.). Additionally, on the home front, parents will notice that their children are having an easier time getting homework done, tasks are completed with less distractions, as well as less outbursts (Edmunds, 2018. P 156.). Overall, the medication is designed to help the brain stimulate is neurons that regulate self-control, in turn, helping individuals regulate themselves on a day to day basis with less distraction, restlessness, and uneasiness. It is clear how this is helpful in a classroom setting, not only helping class run smoothly, but an overall improvement in learning, and the development of the individual.
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Along with the side effects of the medication, there are side effects of NOT taking medication if you have been diagnosed with ADHD. Specifically; a 30% chance risk of substance abuse, high risk of dropping out of high school or college, poor self-esteem, and a higher risk of a car accident (Edmunds, 2018. P.157).
Considering both the benefits and advantages of ADHD medication on individuals, it is not a very straightforward answer of if we should or should not medicate our children. I believe that the medication can help greatly, however, I do not believe it is the first solution. When we discover that our children may have ADHD I think there are multiple resources to reach to first, such as behavioural therapy, implementing and IEP, EA and so forth. A diagnosis can only be made by a psychiatrist who compiles of complete history of the child, once this diagnosis has been made, medication can then come up as a source of help. I understand the concerns surrounding medicating children and the threats it poses, however, from research done, a lot of the side effects I have researched are only temporary. Specifically side effects such as loss of appetite, headaches, and stomach aches which appear to be present at the onset of taking medication, are also reported to decrease as time goes on and the body gets used to the medication (Van De Loo-Neus, 2011. P. 1).
Considering all the information I have learned, I think that medications should be used for children who are diagnosed with ADHD when therapy and other interventions fail to work. Kutscher condenses my thoughts well when he says, “once you have given a child a reasonable attention span with medication, then we can ask him to behave in class. We are not saying to use medication instead of teaching coping skills; we are saying that sometimes medication is needed to make utilizing those techniques actually possible” (Kutscher, 2008. P.109). This is a disorder that students cannot cope with sometimes, and the need for medication is there, I believe the benefits of improving school work, learning, and self-efficacy, outweigh the cons of being at risk to have some side effects. I have a friend with ADHD and I asked him if I could ask him about his experience taking Concerta. Friend X uses Concerta 18 mg once a day in the morning, he experienced some loss of appetite which went away as time went on. When I asked what improved, his responded that his ability to focus increased severely, as well as an increase in his grades, and overall achievement at school. When I asked if he would recommend other students that have been diagnosed with ADHD to take medication, he replied with a yes.
To conclude, I believe as a teacher it is our job to help our children succeed and feel impowered in their studies. We are to mold and shape the classroom to help fit to the unique needs of students, including the needs of students with ADHD. While I do not think medication is the first choice, I do believe it is a suitable choice when the need is clearly there. The benefits it provide cannot be ignored, and with a support team of school, family and doctor, side effects can be monitored and dosages modified when needed as the child grows up. I think every child deserves to feel successful and smart, and if medication is allowing these students to focus and achieve then I believe that they should be prescribed medication with a doctors approval.
- CADDAC. (N.D). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://caddac.ca/adhd/understanding-adhd/in-general/facts-stats-myths/
- Kutscher, M. L. (2008). ADHD – Living Without Brakes. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.student.twu.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=236294&site=eds-live
- Mccarthy, L.M. (N.D). Top 10 Questions about ADHD medications answered. https://www.additudemag.com/top-10-questions-about-meds-answered/
- van de Loo-Neus, G. H. H., Rommelse, N., & Buitelaar, J. K. (2011). Review: To stop or not to stop? How long should medication treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder be extended? European Neuropsychopharmacology, 21, 584–599. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euroneuro.2011.03.008
- Paul H. Wender, MD. 2002. ADHD: Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adults , by Paul H. Wender, MD. Oxford University Press.