Stop Feeding Your Toddlers ADHD Medication Just Because You Can’t Handle Them

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how-young-can-adhd-be-diagnosedADHD is a special pet peeve of mine. On the one hand I have the singular unbridled pleasure of dealing with adult ADD everyday. It frustrates me to see people debate whether or not attention deficit disorder is a real thing, because for someone who deals with the challenges of it, it’s a lot like asking if gravity is a thing. Medication has been a godsend. On the other hand I would be lying if I said I didn’t have deep reservations about giving it to my daughter, if she presented with symptoms–at least until every other option were exhausted and she were much, much older.

This is why it surprises and horrifies me that children as young as two are being given what can only be described as-let’s face it-legal cocaine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia released data on Friday showing that over 10,000 toddlers nationwide are being prescribed Ritalin or Adderall at age three or below, according to The New York Times. This is crazy to me! It’s worth noting that the toddlers this data represents are all on Medicaid.

I can’t imagine having this conversation with my child’s doctor:

“Doctor, what can I do? My two-year-old just can’t sit still!”

I imagine if I had walked into my pediatrician’s office with that complaint, she very likely would’ve laughed in my face. The fact is, you’d be hard-pressed not to find a two-year-old who isn’t exhibiting at least some signs of what we consider to be ADD or ADHD. These behaviors, like becoming bored easily and having trouble following directions are symptoms of a very rare disorder that is commonly referred to as being a fucking toddler.

I think part of what makes ADD or ADHD such a contentious issue among parents is that even as kids get older, these signs and symptoms could be the disorder, or they could just be your kid being a kid. The truth is, attention deficit disorder isn’t as simple as not being able to sit still or daydreaming. It can make doing even the simplest tasks virtually impossible. You have to trust that your pediatrician will make the right call, and go in with both eyes open. I have difficulty believing that this many toddlers have a legitimate diagnosis, and that on top of that, that hardcore stimulant medication is the only viable treatment option for them.

I’m not the only one. Dr. Doris Greenburg, a behavioral pediatrician in Savannah, Georgia cautions against jumping the gun on any diagnoses, and that while the rare case of ADHD may crop up in toddlers, warns that 10,000 kids on stimulant medication is far too many:

“Some of these kids are having really legitimate problems…But you also have overwhelmed parents who can’t cope and the doctor prescribes as a knee-jerk reaction. You have children with depression or anxiety who can present the same way, and these medications can just make those problems worse.”

It took me 25 years to get a diagnosis, partly because my mother was extremely distrustful of mental health professionals. This meant for that for years, I struggled with everything from my schoolwork to just performing daily tasks, which ended up taking a huge toll on my family. I eventually saw a therapist for what I thought was anxiety, and once we started talking it became clear that I wasn’t anxious, just wired weird. The diagnosis was a relief and the meds were like magic. It’s nice to be normal all of a sudden.

So I swore that if my daughter ever needed the same kind of help, I would ensure that she got it.With that being said, that time won’t come for a good long while. In my opinion it’s way too early to make that call at seven years old, and my pediatrician agrees.

The fact is, while medication makes my life much easier, I don’t love taking it. Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are heavy duty chemicals that can affect you in ways you don’t even anticipate. As an adult I can articulate that, but could a two-year-old? Beyond that, we don’t even know how stimulant medication effects the brain in the long term-we do know that it can cause frightening side effects like psychosis and hallucination-and that’s in an adult’s brain, which is more developed than a child’s. As an adult, I can weigh that information against the benefits and come to a decision regarding my mental health. A child can’t.

I have to wonder if perhaps the number is so high on kids using Medicaid because it’s a cheap and easy fix; instead of taking the time to address the issue, why not dole out some magic sit-still pills and see what happens?

I’m having trouble understanding why anyone thinks this is a good idea.

(Image: tomer turjeman /Shutterstock)