Let’s start with the facts: the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that as many as 2%-3% of all American children have some degree of ADHD. This equates to approximately 2 million children in the U.S. alone who suffer from this disorder. When you consider these statistics it is clear that ADHD in school is a real issue, and as educators we need to have tools and strategies to deal with the special circumstances these children present. Dealing with ADHD in the classroom setting can be a challenge for both student and teacher. In many cases, special education services are required to help focus the ADHD child and facilitate the learning process. There are also several strategies and tools, such as ADHD games and conversation cards, that a classroom teacher or guidance counselor can use to help with problem solving, self-control and impulse management in the ADHD student. However, despite our best efforts, the fact is that in some cases medication is the only alternative left to help an ADHD child get the most out of his or her educational experience. Starting this conversation with parents and older students can be difficult, though. Hopefully the following three tips can help make the process of discussing and implementing medication into a student’s individual education plan (IEP) go smoothly for all involved. Tip #1: Be Armed with Resources If you want to start a conversation about ADHD and medication with a parent and/or and older child/teen one of the best tools you can utilize is knowledge. ADHD is misunderstood by many people and the more that you know going into the conversation, the more solace you can offer. This includes a general knowledge of the issues surrounding ADHD medication as well as the problems associated with the disorder itself. NIMH provides a simple FAQ form that can help, but other pamphlets and books from doctors, the library or online resources can also be excellent additions that parents and children/teens can take home for further research. Remember, treatment options for ADHD are as diverse as the children and adults who suffer from this disorder, including medication. The problem is that there is still a very real shroud of shame surrounding any sort of mental illness, ADHD among them, as an actual disease requiring treatment. Your first battle will be to break through this wall of resistance when it comes to admitting that ADHD is a problem in the first place that requires more than educational intervention. It is a lifelong battle that this child will face in the workplace, at home and in relationships for years to come. Tip #2: Anticipate Objections and Respond to Them Misdiagnosis and overmedication are as synonymous with ADHD as distractibility and restlessness. The sad fact is that in the last few decades of the 20th century medication for ADHD was prescribed by many doctors without adequate diagnostics and alternate treatment options. Between the years of 1990 and 1995 alone, ADHD medication rates nearly doubled. This understandably leads many parents to automatically balk at the idea of ADHD medication as a means to shelve the problem rather than deal with it. It also makes the battle to convince them of the benefits that medication can have for their particular child decidedly uphill. However, the general consensus and the reality of this disorder could not be more diametrically opposed. Rather than an overmedication epidemic, countless studies, including one by the American Medical Association (AMA), have rather found that ADHD is being under diagnosed to this day. Make sure that you spend time reading the literature on ADHD. This includes the resources mentioned above as well as more in-depth studies from the educational as well as medical fields. Tip #3: Employ a Team Approach When it comes to talking about “problems” with their children many parents automatically go on the defensive. This makes broaching the subject of treatment even more delicate. One of the best ways to make sure that parents do not take your advice as criticism of themselves or their child is to employ a multi-faceted approach to the conversation. Whether you are a teacher, a guidance counselor or therapist, it is important to make sure that the child’s entire educational team is on board with the medication recommendation, educated as to its effects and willing to discuss it with the child and parents. This assures parents that the suggestion is not a whim, but based on observation of the child in question as well as many different educational perspectives. In addition, if you can include the child’s doctor or have one on staff, this can provide that extra push many parents need. Bottom Line: The Child Whether or not your suggestion to medicate an ADHD child is accepted or rejected, it is important to keep this primary goal in mind throughout the process: your job is to give this ADHD child the best shot at a quality education. Medication is not a one-stop-shop solution to ADHD and should not be viewed as such by either parents or educators. It must be used in conjunction with an IEP designed for the individual student and followed-up upon routinely. Many parents will be understandably skeptical about medication as an answer to ADHD for reasons that range from personal belief about drugs to a misguided notion of ADHD as a real disease. However, when deciding to discuss ADHD medication for one of your students, remember this scenario, related to me by a friend whose daughter has ADHD. When her doctor first suggested a medicated approach to her daughter’s treatment, my friend’s immediate response was “no.” Then the doctor put it this way: “If your daughter had diabetes, would you give her insulin? If she had cancer, would you give her chemotherapy? ADHD is no different.”
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