Martha is an 11th grader referred to the school counselor by the principal because of an absenteeism problem. Earlier that week, the police were called to her home to escort her to school. Her mother said Martha had flat out refused to attend school and there was nothing the mother could do to get her to go to school because of the aggressive behavior she demonstrates.
In school, the girl was hostile and non-compliant to the point where even teachers were frightened of her. The following month she was hospitalized, diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder and put on a regiment of medication. After being discharged from the hospital she remained in treatment. She began attending school, making up missing assignments and her behavior started to improve. A few weeks later the aggressive behavior returned, she was no longer attending school and began bullying other students. In one of the counseling sessions she was asked if she was still taking her medication. She replied, "No, I don't like the way it makes me feel." She indicated she told her parents and they said she didn't have to take the medication if she didn't want to. When her parents were contacted, they complained about the behavior she was demonstrating while on medication so they chose to discontinue it and stopped seeing her therapist. Martha's behavior continued to worsen at school. Her parents were called on a number of occasions by the school, but didn't respond and eventually withdrew their daughter from school.
Few parents want to hear their child may need outside help or medication. However, it's never as difficult as the behavior a child exhibits when their parents don't follow through, manipulate their medication, stop treatment, or just don't respond to their child's needs.
What's in the best interest of your child? It's your job to find out. Often students have special needs that can't be met in school by various accommodations, counseling, or other services. This is when medication needs to be a serious consideration.
The issue shouldn't be "I don't want my child on medication." An involved parent would respond, "I explored every possibility regarding the difficulties my child was experiencing." When medication was the only reasonable answer, I was willing to do what was in the best interest of my child. In some cases medication may be the only alternative that can assist your child to operate more effectively academically, behaviorally or socially.
But first, this means taking action, doing research and asking professionals the right questions, becoming comfortable with the various interventions and making sure you're managing the process.
Julie, a 14 year old high school freshman began having seizures when she was in the 7th grade. Her parents immediately consulted a physician and their daughter was put on medication. During the adjustments to the medication, Julie has two more seizures in school and was very embarrassed. Julie continued to take the medication and after two years her parents gave her the opportunity to manage the medication herself. Last September, Julie had another seizure in school because she stopped the medication without getting advice or support from her doctor or parents.
If medication is the option, parents have to take charge of it. A common mistake parents make, particularly with their teenagers, is to make them responsible for their medication. As long as the child lives under your roof, at least until they are 18 years of age, you need to take responsibility for their medication, medical interventions and manage their medication throughout their childhood and adolescents.
Medication is certainly not the only answer. However, it's an alternative that in many situations provides the relief and ability for the child to meet their academic and behavioral potential, establishing a meaningful and rewarding lifestyle today and in the future. Take responsibility for your child's success, examine every option, but be open and fair to your child, their situation, needs and success.
Rick Capaldi, Ph.D.