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Posted: September 6th, 2023

Medication is increasingly being prescribed to children and adolescents

Medication is increasingly being prescribed to children and adolescents to treat behavioral or mood problems. Medication for an emotional or behavioral problem can be helpful; research shows that psychological interventions may be more effective for children and adolescents. Sometimes medication is necessary—especially if the child or adolescent is exhibiting extremely aggressive or dangerous behavior or is severely moody.

Any medication has risks, such as side effects, adverse reactions, and benefits. Children’s and adolescents’ brains and bodies continue developing until around the age of 26. The safety of psychotropic medications cannot be inferred from adult use data. Research has yet to comprehensively examine many of these drugs’ effectiveness and long-term side effects on children and adolescents.

Consider the following scenario:

Tonya is a 10-year-old adolescent whose parents have come to you because of a recent diagnosis of ADHD by Tonya’s pediatrician. Tonya’s parents do not understand how a person is diagnosed with AHDH. They have heard that all ADHD medications are stimulant based and have a high risk for creating substance dependence. Tonya appears motivated to please her parents and teacher but is easily distracted and disengaged. She does not have a history of abusing medications; all medications would be dispensed by Tonya’s mother.

Write out a mini script showing what you, Tonya’s counselor, would say to her parents.

Respond to the following prompts using your mini script:

Provide two potential questions you might ask about Tonya’s diagnosis.
Explain the role of behavioral counseling alongside a diagnosis of ADHD.
Explain the potential short-term and long-term consequences of not treating ADHD.
Include an empathetic reflection to Tonya’s parents.

Mini Script:

Counselor: Thank you for bringing Tonya in to see me. I understand that you have some concerns about her recent ADHD diagnosis. Before we go further, can you tell me more about what you understand about ADHD?

Parent: We just know that Tonya is easily distracted and has trouble focusing. We’re not sure how a diagnosis is made, and we’ve heard that the medications used to treat ADHD can be dangerous.

Counselor: I understand your concerns. ADHD is typically diagnosed by a combination of observations from parents, teachers, and clinicians, as well as standardized tests. Tonya’s pediatrician may have used these methods to arrive at her diagnosis. Before we talk about treatment options, can you tell me a bit more about how Tonya’s ADHD symptoms are affecting her daily life?

Parent: Tonya is struggling in school, and her teacher has expressed concerns about her ability to focus and complete her work. She also seems to struggle to follow instructions at home.

Counselor: It sounds like Tonya’s ADHD symptoms are causing some real difficulties for her. While medication can be helpful in managing symptoms, it’s not the only option. Behavioral counseling can also play an important role in helping children with ADHD develop strategies to manage their symptoms and improve their functioning.

Parent: That sounds like it could be helpful. We just want to make sure that any treatment we choose is safe for Tonya.

Counselor: Of course. It’s important to weigh the potential benefits of treatment against the potential risks. While all medications have some risks, including the possibility of side effects or adverse reactions, research suggests that the risks associated with stimulant medication used to treat ADHD are generally low, especially when used under the supervision of a healthcare professional. However, it’s also important to consider the potential consequences of not treating ADHD. In the short term, untreated ADHD can cause difficulties with academic and social functioning, as well as emotional and behavioral problems. In the long term, untreated ADHD has been associated with an increased risk of academic failure, substance use, and mental health problems.

Parent: That’s good to know. We just want what’s best for Tonya.

Counselor: I understand that you want what’s best for Tonya, and it sounds like you’re willing to explore different treatment options to help her manage her symptoms. It’s great that Tonya is motivated to please you and her teacher; that can be a real asset in the treatment process. Together, we can work to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that takes into account her unique needs and strengths.

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