I Was the Parent Who Would Never Medicate My Child, Until I Did

Before I was a special needs mom, there was a lot more black and white. I was guilty of a lot of opinions, some judgment and more ignorance than I would like to admit.  Before I was a special needs mom, there were a lot of “I would never” proclamations. And one such proclamation was “I would never medicate my child.”

Of course, when I would talk about this, I wasn’t thinking about abstaining from medication needed to treat a disease or illness. I was talking about the other medicating. The medicating that still has a stigma attached to it. The stigma that perpetuates the idea that parents who medicate their kids are lazy or don’t know how to discipline their children. The stigma that has kept me from writing about this decision until now.

Part of me blames that stigma for my bias. Another part of me recognizes that my preconceived notions were based in my own lack of understanding of mental illness. Even after witnessing our son’s inability to sleep, hyperactivity, compulsiveness, anxiety, mania and aggression, we were hesitant and scared to talk to the doctor about medication.

Were we closing doors for him? Were we giving up on therapy? Was there any other way? Would meds change who he was? Could they hurt him? Were we taking the easy way out? Was it healthy to continue on without medicating?

With him only sleeping three hours in a 24-hour period most days, and with his anxiety so high it was affecting his ability to function, we knew we didn’t really have a choice. As his aggressive behaviors spiraled and therapy was so limited, we knew it was the only way to keep everyone safe. And so we chose to medicate.

There is no magic pill. Even after choosing to medicate, he still works so hard to overcome the challenges autism and its accompanying conditions present him. He still has trouble with anxiety and compulsiveness. He still has and progresses in hours of therapy every week. Even after accessing quality therapy, there were still issues therapy could not address. We didn’t give up on therapy. We didn’t give up on him.

Medication did not change him; it helped him. I do not regret the choice and hope he won’t either. And looking back at his pained gaze in moments that his anxiety and senses were assaulting him; looking back at manic episodes that had his blood pressure through the roof; looking back at his absent stare due to another 28 hours of continuous wakefulness; my only regret is not helping him sooner.

He still is an active little boy. But now he can play with his little sister and I don’t fear for their safety when they play. He still jumps and flaps and has an unmatched excitement for life. But now he can go to a new place without shutting down or melting down from fear of the unknown.

We, as parents, would never let a deadly illness or ravaging disease go untreated in our children’s little bodies. Why should mental illness be any different? We owe it to them to not brush childhood and adolescent mental illness under the rug. We owe it to them to be honest that it is real and it can be scary and overwhelming. What does it say to them when we choose to hide certain diagnoses and certain conditions? Doesn’t it tell them we buy into the stigma, too? We owe it to them to show the world mental illness cannot be taboo, we are not ashamed and they shouldn’t be either.

Our society’s inability to talk about mental illness openly is the reason we lack resources. When we choose not to talk about childhood mental illness, we a pull a wool over society’s eyes while families across our country go through hell and search for answers.

I was a parent who would never talk or write about our son’s mental health issues, but now I am because it needs to be said, and it needs to be heard.

Black and white photo of little boy looking up with a tree in the background

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