December 8, 2010 -- Vicki Iovine 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?"
Welcome to the club of Mothers of Disruptive Children, Tyna! Being told by your son's teacher that your darling is not toeing the line in class creates a sort of panic in a parent. One of my four was diagnosed at about the same age as having a similar attention problem and I was wracked with panic. Would he ever go to college? Was I crazy for not seeing the problems in him that the school saw? Would I spend my golden years visiting him in prison? Was it all my fault?
Take a deep breath and remember that you can approach this ADHD thing in several steps, all of which can be reversed at any time. Oh, and btw, my son is now 22 years old and he not only went to a good college, but he has a great career and supports himself! Yay!
The first step is to get a second opinion about the diagnosis of ADHD. Most states' public schools offer a free full diagnosis of a student's learning abilities AND suggestions for helping them cope in school. This usually takes a half-day or two visits. Ask for it, if you haven't already, because unqualified people throw labels on our kids with little or no real expertise.
Unless your son's pediatrician is also experienced in diagnosing educational/behavioral issues, I don't think a person who has only seen your child once or twice a year for a maximum of thirty minutes or to stitch up his forehead is in the position to know whether your son needs medication for his behavior—unless you tell me that your son torched the doctor's office during his last visit.
The second step is to try to get your son counseling from a psychologist who specializes in kids with learning issues. There are many ways of helping before resorting to meds. Who knows; perhaps your little guy is going through some emotional upset (his parents' divorce, a recent move, missing a working mom) that could also be discovered by a therapist.
The third step is to meet with the teacher and school administrators to discuss the evaluation results and to see if there are physical arrangements that can be made in class to help Junior stay focused. Ask the teacher to seat him in the front of class, or to be a "special monitor" of some classroom task to make him feel special and respected. Perhaps having him take up a sport after school can help burn up some of his wonderful energy.
The fourth step is, should all the experts agree that your son would focus and get more out of school with ADHD medication, you can try it for a month or two to see if there's an improvement. You will have to stay very vigilant to see if your child loses weight, seems listless, is less joyful or unable to sleep well. These are things only a mom can recognize. I tried the meds with my son, and he seemed "hollow" to me; his personality and sociability were so reduced that I stopped them.
And fifth, look into the possibility that your son's school just isn't the place for him. One school's annoying kid can be another's class president.
Remember, Tyna, you're your son's advocate and you're the perfect person for the job. Stay calm, take it step by step and trust your instincts—you're his mom and you're "wired" to sense what is right for him.