Dear 'GMA' Advice Guru: Sophia Venable

Read responses to viewer-submitted questions from one of our finalists.

Dec. 8, 2010 -- Sophia Venable from Los Angeles, Calif., is a finalist in the Dear GMA Advice Guru Contest. Read her response to a viewer-submitted question below!

Question from Tyna in Boiling Springs, S.C.: "I'm a single mom and my 9-year-old son was just diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The doctor wants to put him on medicine? I didn't think his behavior was that bad (his teachers disagree), but I am concerned about his grades slipping. Do you think I should let them put him on medication?"

Sophia's Answer: I'm sure as a single mother, this is an overwhelming dilemma. Whenever we are handed a diagnosis, it seems bigger than us. This is where it becomes our job to get informed.

I can't give you medical advice, but you've already received that. What I can give you is advice as a parent, and that is to trust your instincts, trust that you know your child better than anyone else does, and do your research. Remember: You can always go the route of medication. You have the diagnosis and the prescription, so it is there for you if you need it. If you do take that route, you can also talk to your doctor about starting with the lowest possible dosage. You have the right, and the luxury of time, to ask questions. He doesn't have an infection that's going to run wild with time, he has an apparent Attention Disorder that may or may not require medication. You have time to breathe and get your bearings here.

This is a controversial and deeply personal subject. There are many parents out there who swear that diet and exercise are as or more effective than medication. Some prefer alternative medicine. His teacher might be willing to try a 'behavior contract' for a period of time. This is where the teacher and your son each grade his behavior throughout the day and compare notes at the end of the day, giving him clear behavioral goals and feed back. You can give it 30 days or so and in that time continue to keep a close eye on his schoolwork.

Try to remember that his 4th grade marks are not likely to affect his chances at Harvard at this point… his health and well being are most important. His little spirit is important too. All children are unique, with gifts that make them special. It's vital to remind him of that and to celebrate that. We don't want this kind of diagnosis to make him feel as though he is somehow defective. Some of the greatest artists in history would have likely been diagnosed with ADHD.

Information gives you strength and clarity. Read what researchers have to say about diet and ADHD. Get a second medical opinion. Read about the safety and side effects of the medication, and absolutely listen to your gut. If your gut tells you to try alternative methods first, then give yourself a reasonable time period. If you read up on it, and your gut tells you that your son is a candidate for medication right away, then you can walk confidently into that decision. That's what we really want as parents: to feel confident in our decisions and to know that we followed our heart with an informed mind.