Deciding to try medication was difficult for most. Several reasons contributed. First, parents continued to feel responsible for the child's problems - "like you failed somehow and you are giving your kid medication." Second, many had fears about the safety of medication. "We were scared because we heard about… filling up kids with drugs and they are zombies." In considering pills for the child many preferred to try something else first. One mother recalled asking, "Is there any other way? Is there an alternative?" Another mother stated, "I didn't want to put drugs into my child's body I wondered if there was any other way." After doing her own research, another decided the case for using medication "was sort of like yes, there were some cases that were unbelievable (excellent results) but there were other cases that weren't so positive". Another family described the process, "So we started the Ritalin, not knowing if it was the right thing or not, but figuring we had tried everything else." Once they had come to a decision to try medication treatment, accepting a trial of stimulants was easier. Most felt that a trial of medication "can't hurt for a month."
A third reason the decision to use medication was difficult involved family, friends and other influential people not understanding the issues or actually supporting a trial of medication. Participants spent a lot of time discussing conflicts with grandparents and other extended family members. One mother was told by her husband's brother, "Don't you go to those doctors, don't you listen to them, don't you ever put your son on medicine." Another mother reported, "we have family who don't agree with our decisions…It makes things really tough." Yet another recalled, "My mom was always like, 'Do you have to put him on something that will take away that personality?’" Further, spouses could not always agree with each other: "You are like 'let's just try this, let's try anything,'….I was pushing my wife on it."
Our parents also experienced mixed responses from school professionals. Sometimes, teachers were supportive of medication use, as in "he has many teachers say…you are denying him the potential that he actually has got (by not using pills)." But other educators were against using medication. "The school was really pushing for non-medication therapy." One mother had heard from a principal, "Well, my son is 30 and he never had medication and he is a success." Conflicting opinions added to confusion about what to do. One parent noted that handling the responses of other people was a real challenge in deciding to use medication.
Negative media portrayals of medication use also complicated the decisions for parents. "If you are in the situation where you are forced to use the medication you can't help but feel the guilt because they (media) are presenting that image…putting kids on medication because it is easy." Another recalled a recent print article: "On the cover of (a popular) magazine, 'Are we over-medicating our kids?'" Parents described feeling that "you tell people you are giving your child drugs and they think there is something wrong with you." The media portrays that "it is convenient to pop a pill" adding to the blame parents experience from others and the guilt they feel themselves.
Parents also emphasized the importance of educating those around their children about ADHD so they could feel more supported. Attempting to provide that education themselves, however, was seen as problematic because of the ever-present fear of negative repercussions to the label of ADHD. Parents frequently experienced stigma associated with having a child with ADHD. "In the beginning… I didn't want him labelled, I didn't want him to stand out." One mother acknowledged avoiding a team activity for her son because when people don't understand his ADHD "it was easier just to stay home on Tuesday nights."
The decision to use or not to use medication was an ongoing process for many parents. Several families noted that they still continue to search for additional ways to assist their child beyond the help medication provides. In addition to using medication parents work to find school programs and extracurricular activities that match the child's needs. Many families have focused on providing a healthy diet. "We realize it is…a combination of things" that can be helpful. Some parents have looked for school programs that are small and nurturing, some have offered their child food additives, while several avoid excess sugar. They have tried new parenting techniques, organizational aids, and new methods for teaching skills to their children including neural feedback and "brain gym."