The topic of medication is a very controversial one when caring for a child with neurological challenges. Ask most parents and you'll find that they have a strong opinion, one way or another: some families would NEVER put their children on medication while others COULDN’T live without meds. I enter this topic with a great deal of trepidation because soon after we made the decision to put Matthew on meds, someone I know wrote me an email begging me to consider other options, shaming me into feeling like I was a bad parent, taking the easy way out by medicating him.
Jeesh—the things we say to each other sometimes.
In truth, we thought long and hard about medications before finally turning to them. We tried behavioral intervention, a “sensory rich” diet of activities, clothing, weighted blankets, arm brushing, pressure on the skin, a sensory swing, and just about every other option.
But there came a point where it was obvious that Matthew’s challenges were beyond external supports. He obviously didn’t feel good in his own body, and we were failing at trying to help him from the outside. So with careful consultation with a wonderful neuropediatrician at Seattle Children’s Developmental Center, we launched Matthew into the world of medication, little by little, to help support him on the inside.
Meds haven’t changed Matthew—they haven’t taken away his challenges. But we have found several medications that help him feel more at home in his body. Far from being sedated or “drugged out,” Matthew is actually more clear and focused with the support of medications. He’s less anxious, more able to engage and learn, and more willing to practice his communication skills with us. School days are easier and more focused. He’s learning more.
I am grateful we finally decided to go down this path.
And that’s a lot for me to say, since I’m the parent who tries every single home remedy before taking my child to the doctor for an antibiotic. We take food-grade essential oils in capsules when we are sick and we eat foods to keep our immune system strong. I’m a regular walker and jogger, I take yoga weekly to manage my stress. I’m not one of those parents who quickly jumps to medication. Believe me, I do everything to avoid medication most of the time.
But when you are a person whose body chemistry is totally out of whack, like Matthew, then I have a hard time saying NO to something that will help him feel more at home in his body.
Of course one of the risks of medication is that it can work for a while and then all of a sudden NOT WORK any longer. This is what seemed to happen for Matthew in late November and early December when his behavior started going downhill. Nothing changed in his life or in our lives—he was in the same routines at the same school—the same teacher, the same caregivers, the same expectations.
But all of a sudden the cocktail of medications that were working started to NOT WORK any more.
And this is always the risk—when one’s body chemistry is imbalanced, then there is always a possibility that medication won’t work the same way all the time. That reality is frustrating and a little scary too.
I don’t really have any life-changing advice about medication. I do know that we live in a culture that has the reputation of being quick to medicate its children to avoid dealing with their behavior. But for families like ours, knee deep in “dealing” with behavior, sometimes our best intentions and research-based actions aren’t enough. If behavioral challenges are a form of suffering for our kiddos, and there are medications that can help our kids feel less dysregulated and more at home in their bodies, why would we deny them that experience?
All I can say is this: each family and child is unique. As parents of these very difficult children, we need the opportunity to make the decision that is best for each of us. For our family, saying YES to medication for Matthew has been the right decision. I don’t regret it for a second.
If saying NO is the best decision for you and your child, then that’s clearly what you should do. Please don’t hear this post as an endorsement for medicating kids who have neurological challenges. It’s just one mama’s story, shared with honesty and a big dose of humility too.
One last thing we have learned—medication doesn’t (and cannot) turn a behaviorally challenged child into a little angel. I think that’s one of the biggest misunderstandings about psychotropic medication. Our kids still deal with all their challenges. But with a calmer body to start with, they are more likely to find success (and us too) after all the work and effort. Medication doesn’t turn our dysregulated boy into a neurotypical kiddo who is similar to his peers. He’s still a bizarre, unique little person. But he’s able to be a little more at home in his body, and as a result, we all get to be a little more at home when we are together too.