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Are Drugs for ADHD Safe

For certain children – you’ll meet a few here – drugs for ADHD are safer than the alternatives.

Let me introduce you to Tim. He’s three years old but tall and strong for his age. See what beautiful eyes he…

Where did he go? He was RIGHT HERE! Excuse me for just a minute….

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Oh, hello again. Did I find Tim? Oh, yes, I found him. He slipped onto the elevator while we were talking. I caught up with him on the fifth-floor fire escape.

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“Tim” is not his real name, but Tim is a real child – or was. He’s 28 now. The second of four children, Tim was the only one who was actually “planned.” His mom and dad perused the parenting books and bought the educational toys and read to him and sang him lullabies.

They didn’t understand why he was so restless, why he craved excitement, why he broke things for no apparent reason, why peace and quiet seemed to unsettle him. Tim didn’t understand either. He’d look at the shattered vase, or the doll whose head he’d just wrenched off, and burst into tears. “I don’t know why I did that,” he’d sob.

Tim’s younger brother Jesse was less volatile but, like Tim, he was easily distracted. In school, as the rest of the class obediently wrote down the spelling words they were supposed to memorize, Jesse drew elaborate designs-concentric circles, overlapping triangles-in the margins of his paper. When the teacher called his name, he didn’t hear her. He was lost in his little geometric world.

Tim and Jesse’s siblings, Becky and Sam, were lively learners who enjoyed school. They were enthusiastic about the wholesome family activities their parents planned-picnics, fishing trips, afternoons at the movies….

Either Tim or Jesse – often both – would usually be seen wearing a cast or a conspicuous bandage or exhibiting a swollen, bruised eye. Fortunately for their parents, the accidents that occasioned the cast or the black eye were witnessed by teachers or the parents of friends. Jesse provoked the dog that bit him. Tim was jumping from picnic table to picnic table at Oktoberfest when he lost his footing.

Naturally, Tim and Jesse’s parents sought professional help. They were invariably urged to enter “family therapy.”

When Tim was in seventh grade and Jesse was in sixth, a wise counselor had each family member thoroughly evaluated. Tim was diagnosed with ADHD, Jesse and his mother with ADD. Adderall was prescribed for all three.

Jesse was transformed. His grades shot up. His attitude boomeranged. His social life blossomed, and he stopped provoking dogs.

But Tim had already begun “self-medicating” – drinking and using marijuana. He never completed a semester of high school. When he was in residential treatment – usually after a string of arrests related to drugs – he was a model kid. The structure suited him.

Adderall, a stimulant, is effective almost instantly. Tim’s parents and teachers could tell when he’d taken his dose and when he hadn’t. Usually he hadn’t. The school nurse reported finding Tim’s half-dissolved Adderall pill under the cushion of a chair in the health center or shoved behind the leg of a desk.

Today, Jesse’s doing well, employed in satisfying work and going to school full-time. Tim, after conquering cocaine addiction and coming to terms with his ADHD, still struggles. But he never quits, and I know he’ll win.

I used to wonder, from time to time, how different Tim’s life might have been if he’d been diagnosed earlier, or if he’d taken his Adderall instead of grinding it into the carpet. I don’t think about it any more. But I’ve put it on the list of questions I’m going to ask God when we meet face to face.