How Meds & Pediatric Therapies Together Can Help Kids With Attention/Behavior Issues Reach Maximum Potential
As experienced providers of pediatric therapies in Southwest Florida (specifically, speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and physical therapy), our team at FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers is sometimes asked whether kids receiving these services might still benefit from medication – or whether kids on medication truly need pediatric therapies.
Short answer? It depends.
Every child, every condition is different. The primary voice of authority, of course, is your child’s pediatrician and specialists. But don’t discount input from the pediatric therapists who are providing intervention services to your child.
As experienced practitioners who each work with dozens of kids daily: We generally do not recommend medication as the first treatment option for a lot of children diagnosed with conditions like speech-language delay, developmental disabilities, certain neurological/neurodevelopmental conditions, and behavioral health issues. BUT – sometimes, for certain kids – pediatric therapies in combination with medications can do wonders in helping the child reach their maximum potential.
We encourage parents to keep an open mind, ask questions, and maintain an ongoing dialogue with their kids’ doctors and pediatric therapists.
What Type of Medications Are We Talking?
Obviously, if a child has a health condition like epilepsy or congenital heart disease or diabetes – the medications they take are typically far less of a controversy/up for debate.
What we’re mainly referring to here are medications prescribed for conditions related to lack of attention/focus/behavioral regulation. These include prescriptions like Adderall, Dexadrine, Focalin, Ritalin, etc. It might also include antipsychotic medications recommended for behavioral issues, such as Risperdal.
There isn’t a black-and-white answer that’s going to work for every child, every condition, or every age. The reality is choosing the right treatment for your child can be complicated. We fully understand that. Parents of kids with co-morbidities (Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD/ADD], Down Syndrome, intellectual disabilities, etc.) – they often have to make tough choices about the best combination of care needed to help their kids thrive.
Where to Start: Therapy vs. Medication
Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, MS/CCC-SLP and FOCUS Therapy Owner & Founder, has nearly two decades of experience in pediatrics. She’s also a parent and has herself been diagnosed with ADD (for which she receives medication). She generally advises parents to start with the least invasive treatment, and then go from there.
“Medicine generally isn’t what I would consider the first ‘go-to’ for small kids,” Voltz-Ronco says. “When it comes to young bodies and developing minds, It’s best to begin with therapy because not only is it often extremely effective, it’s usually the least invasive. So my recommendation is: Let’s start there. Let’s see how much progress is possible before we move on to the next level – if needed.”
Providers of pediatric therapies will be carefully watching every child’s progress at each phase. They’re going to be closely observing the mental/physical/behavioral/emotional barriers to progress. Parents are going to get daily reports on the successes – and ongoing challenges – to goals for communication, socialization, independent function, academics, etc. If they notice an issue: You’re going to know about it.
Some key phrases Voltz-Ronco says to watch for from your child’s pediatric therapists, teachers, and caregivers:
- Lack of focus
- Significantly decreased attention
- Constant distraction by others
- Routine distraction by sounds, items, etc.
“You start hearing phrases like this, then it’s time to have a discussion with your child’s physician,” she said.
“In general, I would avoid going full-tilt with medications before kindergarten. You want to give their brain a chance to develop for a few years before diving in. See how formal education plays a role. Maybe the child just needs more movement in the day? Maybe they just need differently-structured instruction? Maybe we can successfully adjust the way they’re taught, rather than demanding they conform to every element of a ‘typical’ classroom.
“But, if you’ve tried all these alternatives and the child STILL struggles with attention issues (with or without hyperactivity), then maybe you start to discuss medication.”
Tips for Parents Considering Medication
Medication isn’t a one-and-done solution, either. There are likely to be adjustments in doses, alternatives, etc.
Some general thoughts for parents:
- Keep an open mind. Be willing to consider new information from experienced professionals.
- Ask lots of questions. If something doesn’t make sense to you or you have concerns: Ask. Speak up. Be an advocate for your child. Trust the experience of your child’s doctor/psychiatrists – but don’t ever allow someone to make you feel like your confusion is invalid or your concerns are unworthy of addressing.
- Keep your child’s pediatric therapists in the loop. We want to help. We’re not “pro-medication” or “anti-medication.” We’re Pro-YOUR CHILD. Our speech, occupational, ABA, and physical therapists at FOCUS – along with your child’s doctors, teachers, caregivers, etc. – we’re on the same team. We also trust that YOU know your child best. We’re here to support you. If you aren’t ready to start your child on medication: We have your back, and will provide additional supports as needed. If it’s something you’re considering, we’ll offer our honest, frank insight and support.
If you have questions, we’re happy to offer our insight.
FOCUS offers pediatric speech, occupational, physical, and ABA therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Children and the Use of Complementary Health Approaches, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
More Blog Entries:
ABA Therapy: Is It Right for Your Child? Jan. 11, 2022, Fort Myers Pediatric Therapy Blog