To medicate or not to medicate … That is the question

outloud title bar[notice]A new, monthly column by Vivienne Solomons who is a legal consultant who passionately believes that God wants His people to make a difference right where they are and to stand up for what is true and just. She is also passionate about encouraging young women to walk victoriously with God and she is engaged in a challenging faith journey as a parent of a child with special needs.[/notice]

It is not an easy decision to put one’s young child on mind altering and behaviour modifying medication, particularly when their condition is not life threatening. Those who do usually feel great conflict within themselves: Conflict between on the one hand, providing their child with an opportunity to learn and to interact with others ‘normally’ and on the other, dealing with the potential side effects accompanying such medication.   

Although it’s been two and a half years since my son began receiving medication to manage his symptoms, not a day goes by that I don’t ask the question whether he actually needs the chemicals that have such a pronounced effect on his thinking and behaviour patterns. It’s not that their effect has been negative; on the contrary, all those who interact with him would agree that the drugs have had the desired effect of masking (to a large extent) his daily struggles, enabling him to go about daily life with greater focus on the task at hand; less anxiety and an increased ease in social interactions. I would even go so far as to say that the medication has given him a new lease on life. Certainly, both his life and ours as a family would be very different in the absence of medication. In so many ways.

So why is it that despite the positive results we have experienced, I do not find myself jumping up and down with glee? There are two main reasons. Firstly, there is the risk of both the known and unknown potential side effects of using such drugs, which must constantly be weighed against their very real life enhancing benefit. What adds to the dilemma is that often, the effects of long term usage cannot be predicted. Secondly, the truth is that medication affords us only a fragile handle on his condition. This control is by no means permanent and needs to be constantly reviewed and assessed in the context of changing circumstances and the ever increasing demands made upon him as he grows. And just as we get comfortable and achieve some sort of rhythm in our lives, it is usually time to switch things up and adjust to a new drug regime. The goal posts always seem to be shifting. Then there is, of course, the added dimension of fielding the opinions of others, particularly other parents, and even family members, who question our choice to medicate a young child.

Having walked this bumpy and oftentimes lonely road for a number of years, my advice to parents who are faced with a similar decision is:

  1. Research your child’s condition and become an (unofficial) expert on the causes and symptoms, as well as treatments available, both pharmaceutical and therapeutic.
  1. Before making a decision, ask questions. Lots of questions. Of yourself. Of the medical practitioner. Of other parents in a similar situation.
  1. Never underestimate the power of your love to bring about positive and lasting change in your child’s life.
  1. Should you choose to medicate, complement such medication with other therapies, where possible, in order to work on the whole child, rather than seeing medication as a one stop cure all.
  1. Surround yourself with those who are on a similar journey and therefore understand what you are going through and can support you when your faith fails.
  1. Never stop praying and trusting God for your child’s healing and restoration to complete health.


  1. Willie v Graan

    Love this because I also have raised a handicapped child. Never under estimate the patience that you can acquire from being blessed with a child with special needs.

  2. Those of us who never walked this road cannot fathom the tensions and questions which Vivienne describes. Our prayers support her and others with the responsibility of guiding such children through to adulthood.