7 Things you should know when your child starts ADHD medication
It’s with careful deliberation and often with much trepidation, that parents make the decision to medicate their ADHD-diagnosed child, in the hope that their child’s quality of life, as well as the family quality of life at home improves.
Though not a cure, medication treatment has been proven to be highly effective in treating the symptoms of ADHD, allowing the child to function better at home, school, and within the community.
Finding the correct ADHD medication and dose for your child takes time, so experts advise patience through the process. Here’s what you need to know when your child starts medication:
Your decision is not cast in stone.
Medication is started on a trial basis, which allows parents to base their decision after observing the pros and cons first-hand.
There will be lots of data collection.
Families and teachers will be expected to participate in several information-gathering activities: medication information sheets, checklists, and rating scales. Teachers would be expected to complete checklists on your child’s academic performance and behaviour in the classroom. This allows the doctor to monitor your child’s symptoms, functioning, and side effects over time, which subsequently informs decisions on medication management, i.e. what’s best for your child, the dosage and whether medications should be used alone or in combination with another.
Your child may experience side-effects, but it can be managed.
Both stimulant and non-stimulant medications have side effects – most of them mild. Stimulant medication may cause common side-effects such as decreased appetite, sleep problems, headaches, stomach pain, and they may also exacerbate underlying mood and anxiety disorders. Common side-effects with non-stimulant medication include a drop in heart rate and blood pressure, fainting, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, irritability, constipation, and dry mouth. Speak to your doctor about other less common side-effects. It’s important to note that methylphenidate and amphetamine – the most commonly prescribed stimulants -do not have cumulative effects over time.
Side effects are usually managed by reducing the dose, changing the type of medicine, altering the time it is administered, or switching to another medication.
Your child’s body will have a unique reaction to a particular medication, so expect medication and dosage adjustments.
Every individual has a unique response to medication, therefore only through trial and error will your doctor be able to tell whether a particular medication, and its dosage, works for your child.
With stimulants, the optimal dose is not based on age, weight, gender or severity of symptoms; rather it’s determined by how efficiently the medication is absorbed in the GI tract, the individual’s metabolism, and how efficiently the medication passes across the blood-brain barrier. For instance, an eight-hour pill may last anything from six to 10 hours, depending on the person. The response to stimulant medications is immediate following a particular dose, but non-stimulants can take up to six weeks to work.
As your child grows, the type or extent of treatment is likely to change over time as they deal with different demands. Experts recommend that the dosage gets adjusted yearly as your child ages. There is a percentage of children who may no longer require medication as they mature into adulthood.
Over-the-counter or prescription medication can interfere with the medication’s effectiveness
Asthma medications, herbal supplements, vitamins, steroids, decongestants and products containing caffeine may interfere with ADHD medications, e.g. vitamin C can hinder the absorption of methylphenidate, impacting its effectiveness. Speak to your health care professional when starting or combining medications.
You know that the medication is working when the symptoms improve.
Look out for:
• sustained focus, making your child more productive
• less impulsivity
• improved mood, with less anxiety
• greater attention to detail
• better memory
• better sleep
If there’s no improvement…
When your child’s symptoms fail to improve, this could be a sign of a coexisting condition or the diagnosis needs to be reconsidered.
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2. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and American Psychiatric Association. (2013). ADHD Parents Medication Guide. Psychiatry.org [Online]. Accessed on 9 May 2022. Available from https://www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/Psychiatrists/Practice/Professional-Topics/Child-Adolescent-Psychiatry/adhd-parents-medication-guide.pdf [MG]
3. Braaten, E. (2016). ADHD medication for kids: Is it safe? Does it help?. Harvard Health Publishing [Online]. Accessed on 11 May 2022. Available from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/adhd-medication-for-kids-is-it-safe-does-it-help-201603049235 [HH]
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5. Dupar, L. & Dobson, W. (2022). A Parent’s Complete Guide to ADHD Medications. ADDitude [Online]. Accessed on 10 May 2022. Available from https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-medication-treatment-guide-for-parents/ [ADD2]