Monday, June 11, 2012

The Homework Pill

Dr. Lawrence Diller has written a piece in the Huffington Post about using medications for homework relief. The Homework Pill mentions stimulants, such as Adderall, that "get people to stick with tasks they find boring or difficult. Impulsive hyperactive children often become more methodical and deliberate, which appears as 'calming' them down" when using stimulants for school-related tasks.

He describes a"classic" study [that] was published in 1980 designed to prove that amphetamine "worked" on normal children too. The study concluded that the stimulant improved the under-average performance of the hyperactive children to an average level, while the performance of the normal children increased to 'supranormal' or above-average levels.

I have personal experience with this. When my 16 year-old was in 4th grade, he was diagnosed with ADHD. He was really ADD - distractible much of the time during school (and while doing homework) and not so much hyperactive. (Although, every now and then he'll go a little nutty (like we all do) and put the "H" in ADHD.)   So, school has always been a bit of a challenge for him.

When my son was in 4th grade, I was married to a physician who prescribed medication everyday, and had no problem with the idea of entertaining the use of medication for treatment for my son. We tried several different stimulant medications for him. What I found was that he turned a bit zombie-like. I'd watch him stare out the window while we were driving in the car. Previously, he would have been chatty in the car. I also noticed his grades improved. He improved by at least one letter grade in the subjects that were the most difficult for him.

After 4 months of experimenting with different meds, I ultimately decided it wasn't worth it. I wanted my alert, distractible and sometimes silly, wonderful, unpredictable kid back. Another reason to stop the medication was he suffered from some serious side effects that I hated - loss of appetite (on an already thin frame) and daily head aches. No matter how much we tweaked the dosage, he would always have these two side effects.

I am not anti medication. I take meds myself for a variety of issues. But, I decided medication was not worth it for my son. He now gets extra help at school and I have gone completely hands off when it comes to monitoring his homework. Once I stopped being the hovering helicopter parent that monitored his daily homework and tests, he took ownership of his work and is getting very decent grades. One subject here and there will throw him for a loop and when that happens, I don't reach for the pills, but instead get him the outside help he needs to feel successful in that subject.

BTW, The best book I read on ADHD was Driven to Distraction. See my sidebar on this blog for more books on ADHD. And read the Dr. Diller article on homework and medication. He states that most kids (especially teens) will struggle with motivation at some point in their schooling and we would do well to just "admit these are normal kids struggling to adjust to one of life's universal challenges."


  1. Did you see today's New York Times piece: . While I, too, believe that medication can have its place, I also believe that schools are a big cause of the problem--too much work, not enough playtime, too many tests, etc. Bravo to you for cherishing your " alert, distractible and sometimes silly, wonderful, unpredictable kid ."

  2. Here is the link for the NY Times piece:

  3. We have my son on ADHD meds and find them to be quite helpful, but it took nearly 6 months to find the right one and the right dose. My son actually came home crying when I forgot to give him his meds because as he said "he couldn't get anything done". But the thing I have learned is to work with my son to determine the dosage. His teacher would have him on a much higher dosage because he is much more manageable but I too hate that zombie quality. Once I started trusting my sons opinion we reduced his dosage and he is much more himself and who cares if he blurts out in class every once in a while. He is 9 years old for goodness sake.

  4. I have a friend whose son was on Adderal since HS and into college. Over time, he proceeded to abuse it to try desperately to focus as he struggled in school. Unfortunately it aided him in crossing a line over to drug induced mental illness where he was hearing voices and becoming paranoid. It took time to stabilize him and wean him off the drug with the support of his parents. It is not that I am against medication but I worry it is a symptom of a floundering educational system where if a child does not fit into the narrow learning style then they have to be medicated to survive. I would hope our teaching would evolve to more individualized education that meets the needs uniquely of various temperaments and learning styles.