The Debate Over Whether ADHD Is Real Really Misses The Point

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It took me a long time to trust myself as a parent. When that same son was an infant, I worried so much every time he coughed or his temperature went above 100.3 (the current standard for a “real fever”). What if I am missing something I thought constantly. I read and re-read my baby books, looking for the silent killer that was coming to harm my baby. Feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the situation, I called the doctor. Together we worked out whether this was something serious or not. I learned a lot from the questions they asked.

By my second child I learned to trust my instincts far more. I wasn’t so quick to pour over guides turning me into a hypochondriac by proxy. Even though she was very different from my first-born, I learned to spot was was abnormal or alarming in her. I called the pediatrician with informed analysis and smart questions, not blind panic. I’ve recently heard doctors saying “don’t worry about every little thing” but that’s a vague instruction. Doctors should be asking parents, “what do you think? You know your child far better than I do. Is this normal?”

I want to stress that I’m not saying doctors and members of the medical community aren’t necessary – they are invaluable resources. I also strongly believe that ADHD is a real disorder and that many children have reaped the benefits of the prescriptions created to address the problem.  But in an age where we are drugging our kids just so we don’t bother other passengers on a plane, maybe we need to stress what is normal behavior for the child rather than having society-at-large think our children are perfect angels and we are parents of superhuman abilities. It is a challenge – not only in the assessment of ADHD or other mental disorders, but in all of parenting – especially when everyone else seems to have an opinion and a blog. And since I have both I’ll share mine: trust your gut.

Parents need to be the first resource in teaching their children appropriate behavior and coping skills, for defending them when they are just being kids, for getting them (and you) help when it is needed, and for assessing how well treatment is working. That also means refusing to allow a diagnosis to continue when you believe your child is exhibiting something in the range of normal, as well as refusing to feel guilty or defensive when pharmaceutical treatment is best. Working with teachers, doctors, and other professionals, it’s up to parents to be the strongest advocate for their child’s mental health.

(photo: Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock)

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