The goal of ADHD medication is not to control unruly kids but to increase their self-control.
When children explain the differences they notice from taking ADHD medication, they often describe improvements in self-control and self-awareness. Their words are simpler and more picturesque than that, of course.
“When the teacher tells us to do something and kids around me are talking, I can still do it.”
A seven year-old boy had just explained the attention control mechanism that neuroscientists call freedom from distraction in some labs or interference rejection in others. Fortunately, the seven year-old had mastered something called speaking plain English that neuroscientists have a deficit of.
“My mind doesn’t wander away from my teacher.”
This eight-year old girl had described an increase in her own attentional control. Her mom had noticed a decrease in the number of reminders she needed to complete her homework, but hadn’t thought to ask her what she had noticed about her own inner workings. Kids may be more self-aware than you suspect. Ask them.
“When I think of something bad to do, I tell myself that it’s bad, and then I don’t do it.” This from a six year-old.
“I got green cards every day for a whole month,” reported an eleven year-old. His mom described how they had become used to getting yellow or red disciplinary warning cards almost every day prior to medication. His self-esteem had shot up.
Both boys were referring to behavioral inhibition, the ability to stop themselves from doing something exciting-sounding that impulsively pops into their respective heads. Self-control requires the ability to spend a half-second previewing or analyzing probable outcomes and intentionally choosing the preferred outcome. Their respective moms were respectively smiling.
One last story: An 11 year-old girl was bouncing all over the waiting room of a colleague of mine, Dr. Donna Holland in Boca Raton, FL. The receptionist asked her boss to calm the girl (and maybe change her medication, too?), so Dr. Holland ushered “Whirlwind Girl” into her office. The youngster skipped and ran in, dramatically waving a piece of paper over her head. It was her best report card ever. Once Dr. Holland shared the joy of her accomplishment, the young girl skipped quietly back to the waiting room, sat next to her mom and read a book until her appointment time. They didn’t change her medication.
Sometimes, hyperactivity is the sign of a kid with good self-control.