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Column originally published Feb 28, 2017

Children With ADHD Need Medications

Question: I just read your column about a boy who has difficulty paying attention and learning. Our six-year-old boy has the same problem. His teacher suggested that he should see a paediatrician. She hinted that his learning can improve if he takes medicine. I disagree with that. I was just like him when I was growing up. My parents took me to our family doctor, and I took Ritalin for a few years. I didn’t like the way it made me feel. When I became a teenager, I refused to take it. I did drop out of school in grade 10, and got into alcohol and drugs, but I was able to stop both of these a few years ago. I don’t think we should give Ritalin to children to make them pay attention. These pills are sold on the street, and can lead to addiction.


No, I don’t agree with you. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and have difficulty learning should be helped with medicine. Let me explain to you why.

ADHD is a genetic condition that affects about 5 to ten percent of children worldwide. Boys are more likely to be hyperactive than girls; therefore, boys are more often recognized, they are more likely to disrupt the classroom. The problem is their difficulty in paying attention, especially in academic subjects. They are smart and very good with their hands, taking apart and putting things back together.

Not able to pay attention can affect a child’s learning. It is especially difficult to recognize this in girls, because they can sit quietly and daydream. They don’t perform as well as they should.

Their problem with attention can have serious impact on their academic performance. Some can be mistakenly identified as dyslexic, although ADHD and dyslexia can coexist in the same child. Academic failure often leads to frustration and dropping out of school, even though they are very intelligent. They lose their self-esteem at an early age.

I have seen many boys and girls with ADHD who struggled in school. With proper diagnosis and treatment, they can catch up and even excel. Taking medicine is like giving them a pair of invisible glasses for their brain. Once the medicine is working, the child can pay attention and understand what the teacher is talking about. He can do the work like everyone else, and self esteem will return. I have seen children who have never passed a grade and improved with medicine. I have seen young adults who dropped out of college and university because of ADHD. After diagnosis and treatment, they were able to finish their programs and become successful citizens. Without medicine, these children will continue to struggle and likely drop out of learning.

Giving these children medicine does not make them smarter. They still have to work hard to pay attention and learn. The medicine allows them to succeed and do what they are interested in and capable of doing, instead of being frustrated because of inattention.

We won’t tell a child who has difficulty seeing with his eyes to just try harder to see, and not give him the glasses that he needs!

I understand that there is a lot of misconception about medications for ADHD. It is true that these medications can have side effects. In the last ten to 15 years, many long-acting medications have become available. They are more effective and have fewer side effects. If the medicine is carefully adjusted, it can be helpful for school and at home.

You didn’t have an easy time in school, but your son doesn’t have to suffer the same way. I don’t think you want him to get into drugs and alcohol. You can change his life journey by giving him the chance to learn and succeed.