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The Hard Choice to Medicate Our Son

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We have entered new territory: medicating our child. Every morning at 8 a.m. we give our 5-year-old son a very small dose of methylphenidate (often known as Ritalin). And then every afternoon at 1 p.m., he goes to the nurse’s office in school (or to our kitchen on the weekends) for his second dose. It’s only been a few weeks, and we’re not yet sure if we’re seeing results, but I still cannot believe we are doing this.

I am not a drug person. Never smoked. Never tried pot (never, really!). I don’t even drink alcohol due to an allergy to sulfites. I had two natural childbirths, no drugs, and no interventions. Until I needed chemotherapy to save my life, I was the kind of person who refused to take an Advil for a headache without considerable deliberation. I’m not anti-medication in any way; it’s just not been my practice to medicate myself without great need.

Diagnosed several years ago with Fragile X Syndrome, our son was recently given the “coveted” letters of ADHD. This diagnosis was not a surprise to us, as my husband and I are aware of our son’s inability to focus and stay on task without great support. But I must admit my heart broke just a bit more when the diagnosis was confirmed, as it means yet another challenge for my sweet boy, even more doctor appointments and insurance fights, and yes, the need for medication.

Not all children with ADHD need medication, but studies of boys with Fragile X and ADHD have determined that some medications might help to make kids feel more like themselves. Medication might also help to lessen anxiety and to aid language development. As a mother, I feel it is my responsibility to give my child this medication as it may help him significantly.

Still, I worry. What if it changes him? He is the most delicious, happy, energetic 5-year-old I’ve ever met. He loves to pray, holding his siddur, swaying and bowing, and “leading” his own Shabbat prayer service from our living room. He runs around our house all day, demanding to be chased by my husband, hiding every time in the same spot under the covers of his bed. His teachers report to us that he is excelling in kindergarten. They love him, he loves them, and he is learning more and more every day. So I worry, what if he becomes a muted version of himself?

And yet, I might ask, conversely, what if it does change him—for the better? What if he can learn easier, connect better with peers, and experience more joy? Who would deny their child that chance? While we can’t say for sure, it seems that he likes how he feels on the medicine, as he requests it every morning after breakfast. Maybe it’s just the taste, or the special attention, or maybe he does, in fact, know his body and can sense a change. I want to believe that he will find a way to let us know if this choice that we made for him is not in his best interest.

I know that all parents worry at some point or another if they have made the right decision for their child. Now I worry about it at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. every single day! I am still struggling with this decision, clearly, but like every parent, I am struggling simply because I want the best for my child. Like everyone beginning a new medical treatment, we will proceed with caution and re-evaluate as the process continues.

Here’s what we know for sure: We trust our doctors, our parenting guts, and our faith. Most importantly, we trust our son.


Read More:

Genetic Testing of Embryos Raises Big Ethical Questions

Mayim Bialik: There’s No Reason You Shouldn’t Get Screened for Jewish Genetic Diseases

My 7th Time Giving Birth & Everything Was Different


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Ilana Garber

Rabbi Garber is the associate rabbi at Beth El Temple, West Hartford, CT. A 2005 graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Garber serves on the board of her community's mikveh and on several national committees of the Rabbinical Assembly, and is a member of Rabbis Without Borders.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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