Ken Shyminsky, a former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.
Many years ago, I (the lead Special Education Teacher in my school) was asked by the principal to tell a parent that her child needed to be on medication in order to succeed in school. I refused to do so. I believed that although medications might have helped this child focus in school, it was not necessarily the only answer.
I saw that this student’s deficits could be managed without medications, given he received focused support at school and at home. I knew the academic support was provided by parents at home, and I knew they could be provided at school because his teacher had the understanding and training to provide the necessary accommodations to the student.
My advice is as follows:
Educate yourself. Know the deficits you face because of your neurological disorder, and what you will gain/regain through use of a medication, and what the possible side effects might be. Which is worse: the deficit or the side effect? If you are only slightly impaired by the disorder, it may not be worthwhile to suffer side effects for something that isn’t affecting your achievements in life. However, for those who are profoundly impaired by their disorder, who stand to gain control, and an opportunity at success in their lives – it’s a small sacrifice to endure some side effects. In truth, the side effects of the medication might seem minor compared to the suffering they endure because of their disorder(s). It really is an individual decision based on individual needs.
Remember this: We are made of chemicals. Those lucky to walk among us who have typical chemical composition have balanced chemistry. They are able to function “normally”. They are chemically able to meet the behavioral expectations of society. They can attend to conversations, respond in appropriate ways, and fulfill societal obligations (be kind, not hit, etc.) – even when they are being rushed/pressured/evaluated. Those who do not have balanced chemicals often cannot do these things when they are required.
By taking medications (chemicals), we move our chemical composition closer to a balanced state, to where it should be, enabling us to meet social expectations – to act “normally”. In a school setting, a student can attend to instructions or lessons, thus increasing his/her ability to learn. The challenge however, is to strike a balance between what is gained by artificially adding chemicals to our bodies, and what is lost through possible side effects. It is a difficult decision, especially when it involves our children.
Weigh the pros and cons. Are the challenges posed by the disorder debilitating enough to warrant “chemical correction”? To make this decision, you must be aware of the medication’s possible side effects. You may need to try the medication to see if the side effects occur in your case, and if they do, how severe they are. As well, you need to be aware of other similar medications that have different possible side effects. Keep in mind that it may be possible to take fast acting medications that can be taken as needed, rather than daily. With these, you may only need to medicate symptoms when needed (not on weekends or holidays).
Milder symptoms can often be overcome through interventions other than medication. However even when medications are prescribed, they work best with additional interventions. Medical and behavioral interventions are the gold standard for treating these disorders. No problem can be simply solved with a pill.
In the case of a child, behavioral interventions (strategies) must be employed consistently at home and at school.