Understanding Your Child’s Medications

By Caitlin Hoff

As a parent or caretaker of a child with special needs, it can sometimes be overwhelming to speak with doctors or healthcare professionals. In the beginning, the medical jargon can seem like a foreign language preventing you from fully understanding the situation your child is in. It can be incredibly overwhelming when you simply want to know that your child is safe and in good hands. Over time, however, this dialogue will become easier. One of the best things you can do as you and your child start this journey and relationship with doctors and healthcare staff is to ask questions. Let’s look at some of the important questions that you should ask your child’s doctor before he or she starts a new medication.

How will this medication help my child?

This might seem like a very basic question to ask, but the answer can be insightful and helpful to you as a caretaker. You don’t need to be a medical professional or a scientist to understand the basics of how a medication is effective, and understanding how a medication works can give you a better understanding of your child’s condition and treatment needs. The answer might also emphasize the importance of the medication and its dosage recommendations.

How is this medication taken?

Generally your doctor will answer this question before writing the prescription, but it’s important to ask in the event they forget. Medications have different directions of use based on the side effects that might occur. If your child’s medication has the potential to make them drowsy, you certainly wouldn’t want them taking the medication before school. Similarly, some medications should be swallowed whole instead of chewed for maximum effectiveness. Be able to repeat your doctor’s answer to this question before you leave their office.

How should the medication be stored?

Depending on the medication your child is prescribed, it may have special storage instructions. If heat and moisture could damage the pills, then leaving them in your bathroom medicine cabinet might not be ideal. Other medications need to be refrigerated. Knowing these things about your child’s prescription medication ahead of time can save you a lot of trouble down the road.

What side effects should I know about? What are the risks? Should I report them?

 Side effects in a drug can vary from mild to severe and and could be highly likely or incredibly rare. Knowing what to expect, even the worst case scenario, can keep you vigilant and help you spot signs of adverse side effects before they become dangerous. For example, some newer blood thinners on the market have caused severe bleeding incidents in adult patients. Talk to your doctor about the signs your should look out for and the symptoms that other patients have reported experiencing so that you can be prepared in the event your child has a similar experience.

Should my child avoid anything while on this medication?

 Some medications and treatments require dietary restrictions or prohibit certain lifestyle activities. To ensure that your child’s medication works as effectively as possible, you should be aware of any ill-advised interactions or dietary restrictions. If you child takes any vitamins or supplements regularly, fully disclose this information to your doctor so that they have all the facts when making medical recommendations.

Why this medication versus a similar drug?

For one health condition or illness, there could several different treatment drugs on the market. Your child’s doctor is responsible for making the best decision for your child, given your child’s medical history and the effectiveness and side effects of the different medication options available. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor why they chose this particular medication over another alternative drug. Again, this answer might give you more information about your child as well as the medication they have been prescribed.

Is there a generic version of this medication available?

 Raising a child with special needs or a disability can be costly. Treatments, doctor’s visits, medical insurance, prescription medications, and surgeries can add up quickly, so there is absolutely no shame in asking for a generic alternative to help reduce these costs. In some cases, your insurance company might even cover a generic medication under your plan, but refuse to cover a brand-name drug. You might be able to save more money and avoid hassle with your insurance company, all with one simple question to your doctor.

 Your child’s health and safety is your number one priority as a parent. Understanding their treatment options and medications can keep your child out of harm’s way and make you a better caregiver as well. Don’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind and ask questions to your healthcare professionals. The more you both work together, the safer your child will be.