One parent explains how ADHD medication helps her son to manage his symptoms and how they reached the decision to try it.
Everybody responds to medication differently. This blog only represents the author's experience. For more information, have a look at our medication pages. For medical advice, always speak to your doctor.
The internet was awash with opinions, many very negative and quite sensationalist.
Jack’s ADHD diagnosis came as a bit of a surprise. He’s autistic (diagnosed aged four), so that had seemed to explain his difficulties with concentration, and with managing his emotions and behaviour. But then, at 14, his anxiety soared and he began self-harming. He was in the CAMHS system because of his autism, so he was offered an appointment. The psychiatrist mentioned ADHD and explained that the two conditions often go together – something we hadn’t previously known.
As soon as he was diagnosed (a few months later) we hit what felt like the medication dilemma. Jack was offered methylphenidate – one of a group of medicines called stimulants, with common brand names Medikinet, Ritalin, Concerta and Equasym.
We were told that it could help Jack’s concentration and impulsivity, but that there were possible side effects. After discussing it we were given an information leaflet and advised to think it over.
As soon as Jack was diagnosed with ADHD we hit what felt like the medication dilemma.
How we came to a decision on ADHD medication
I hit Google. Would medication change Jack’s personality? Was it addictive? Would he be able to sleep? And so on, and on. The internet was awash with opinions, many very negative and quite sensationalist. They warned of over-prescription, of parents using tablets in place of boundaries, of students abusing medication to pass exams.
Jack was unsure too. He was finding it almost impossible to concentrate at school. He was sick of being in trouble and feeling anxious. But at the same time, he wasn’t keen on numbing all his feelings or becoming, as he put it, “a zombie”. He’d been googling too.
I knew parents with children taking ADHD medication so I talked it over with them. One said that it allowed them to enjoy activities together that they couldn’t before (like going to the playground or visiting friends). Another boy was coping much better at school.
We – with Jack very much involved – decided to try it. He would stop if it wasn’t helping, or if the side effects were too much. If Jack had eyesight problems we wouldn’t hesitate to get him glasses, we reasoned. We tried to think of this as like meeting any other of his needs.
We decided – with Jack very much involved – to try the medication. He would stop if it wasn’t helping, or if the side effects were too much.
Finding the right ADHD medication dose
Jack was prescribed 5mg of Medikinet IR (an immediate release format, giving one dose, straight away). He took one tablet after breakfast, with the effect lasting around four hours, and a second after lunch. (I had to sellotape the tablet blister to his sandwich so he remembered it.)
We did notice common side effects: anger when the tablets wore off; difficulty falling asleep (already a problem as it is for many children with ADHD); and reduced appetite. But he soon began tolerating the tablets better and we learnt ways around the issues. We made sure he ate a really good breakfast before his tablet and filled up on energy-rich foods in the evening. He only took medication on school days.
The psychiatrist reviewed Jack regularly and both we and his teachers answered questionnaires about his mood, focus and behaviour. His dose was gradually increased, settling at 30mg of Medikinet XL (a modified-release format, meaning the medication is delivered gradually, in this case with the effect lasting around eight hours). The slow process of monitoring and tweaking the dose felt reassuring.
Jack reported being able to concentrate much better in lessons. He was doing well and, even more importantly, he was enjoying learning and being at school.
He now takes 40mg of Medkinet XL every morning, with an immediate release afternoon top-up of 20mg. He is about to turn 18 and plans to start university in the autumn. The tablets help him to focus on studying but also, he feels, to manage his day-to-day life and emotions.
Jack plans to start university in the autumn. The tablets help him to focus on studying but also to manage his day- to –day life and emotions.
What I wish I had known about ADHD medication
For Jack, medication was the right choice, but it wasn’t an easy one to make. Looking back, this is what I learnt.
- Take time to think it over and discuss with your child (depending on their age). And remember you can change your mind.
- Avoid Google rabbit holes. Ask the doctor for reputable sources of research and balanced advice.
- If you go ahead, start at a time when you’re both at home, like a weekend or school holiday.
- Be patient. Careful monitoring of benefits and side effects and gradual dose increase is important.
- If one type of ADHD medication (e.g. a stimulant) isn’t right, discuss other options with the doctor.
I remember worrying whether medication would change Jack’s personality. It absolutely has not. It isn’t a magic bullet, or a ‘cure’ for ADHD. There isn’t one, and I’m quite happy with that. Jack is still perennially late, disorganised and impulsive; but he’s also energetic, original and creative. The medication is helping him make the most of all of that.
Jack is still perennially late, disorganised and impulsive; but he’s also energetic, original and creative. The medication is helping him make the most of all of that.
Methylphenidate is a ‘controlled drug’, meaning there are special rules and laws regarding how it is supplied when prescribed. Our guide to medication has more information.