4 Things I Want People to Know About My ‘Medicated’ Child
I would love to tell you about my son — about his kind heart, wild creativity, love of science and his compassion for animals down to the tiniest insect and earthworm. To know him is to love him. He’s an incredible kid.
My son also has autism. And sensory processing disorder. And obsessive compulsive disorder. And a tic disorder. And anxiety.
Any one of those things would be enough to interfere with his daily life, his ability to function and his well-being. All of them combined make him an anxious, sleepless, aggressive, violent, depressed, anti-social child who has trouble with self-esteem while grappling with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Societal rules he has a hard time understanding and sensory input he has a hard time handling assault him from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to sleep.
Serotonin is a chemical found in the human body. It’s a neurotransmitter, which means it carries signals from and within the brain, as well as other parts of the body. It’s believed by researchers to contribute to well-being and happiness. And my boy’s body doesn’t produce enough on its own to effectively contribute to either. So he now takes a medication to help his body produce serotonin in a way it can’t on its own.
Here are four things I want you to know about my son, who happens to take medication for his mental health and well-being:
1. My son is not a “zombie.”
I’ve seen and heard so many people talk recently about today’s children being “over-medicated.” I’ve seen educated and seemingly rational people calling other parents out on social media for “medicating” children to avoid being a real parent. To them, I say this: My son’s medicine doesn’t make him a zombie. We’re not doping him up on something because we can’t control his behavior. After exhausting all available options to help him with his diagnoses, we (his parents) along with a psychiatrist with many years experience in childhood mental disorders, made the decision to try a medication that treated the symptoms of his diagnoses. And thus far, it’s working beautifully. No, we’re not throwing him a handful of narcotics each morning to keep him “out of it” so we don’t have to deal with him. He’s bright and articulate. Most days, he’s a joy to be around. He is helpful, empathetic and pleasant. Even more so now that his brain isn’t constantly on red alert — fighting the compulsion to organize his surroundings to get rid of the nagging, anxious thoughts that run like white noise in his head all day. He’s able and willing to engage in the world rather than hide from it.
2. Medication is not a silver bullet.
My son feels better when he takes his medicine. He’s more regulated and less anxious. His brain is quieter so he has an easier time focusing, rather than becoming stuck on “what-ifs.” His emotional outbursts and violent episodes have decreased tenfold after starting medication. But there is no silver bullet. Those episodes have decreased, not disappeared. He participates in different type of therapies and classes to work on various skills several hours a week. I still have to watch him like a hawk in case he becomes overwhelmed and bolts. I monitor his peer interactions from a distance because he doesn’t yet understand the difference between children being playful and children bullying him. He’s vulnerable and emotionally immature. Medication will not fix that. He will have to slowly learn and grow and one day, maybe, he will understand those social nuances. The pill he takes is not intended to fix him, but to allow him to work on being his best self. Which leads me to my next point.
3. Medication is not “fixing” him.
He’s a 7-year-old boy. A human boy. Not a piece of furniture. He is not broken, and therefore, does not need fixing. Even if he did, his medication is not made to “fix” broken people. Much like insulin does not “fix” diabetes. A diabetic doesn’t take an insulin shot to cure himself of diabetes, but to control the symptoms the disease causes. Medication is not a glue holding my son together, nor it is a crutch holding him upright. It relieves some of the anxiety, the panic and so many other co-morbidities. Medication gives his overworked brain some breathing room to remember sensory strategies and calming techniques when he finds himself in sensory overload. Medication is not fixing his diagnoses, but helping him navigate them successfully.
4. A child on medication does not equal lazy parents.
Knowing our son has a better handle on his anxiety and compulsive behavior does not mean we’ve been able to get lax in our parenting. Medication has not magically made our lives a cake walk. Far, far from it. If anything, we’re more vigilant. In fact, we now also monitor him for side effects, adverse effects and have to pay attention to things like whether a cold medicine might interact with his current medication and put him in danger. We’re still highly involved in his therapy and his progress. We’re still constantly aware of his state of mind and well-being. We still keep track of what he eats and watches on TV. We still do everything we can as his parents to ensure he’s happy, content, kind, compassionate and successful in his daily life. And then some.
Medication for mental illness is not something to be demonized or vilified. Nor should it be worshiped and hailed as a cure-all. It is a tool. Just another thing in my boy’s arsenal of coping mechanisms and techniques to ensure he reaches his full potential and not only functions successfully, but happily. Maybe you knew these things about mental health medications. Maybe you didn’t know any of them. And maybe — just maybe — this post will make someone stop and think before they pass judgment on a parent who has a “medicated child” like mine who will eventually become a “medicated adult.” It’s not a weakness or a crutch, and it’s high time we end the stigma.