By: Cayla from Running, Recipes, and Reading
My son, B, has ADHD.
When we first found out, our doctor asked if we would consider medication. “Oh, no,” we responded, “He’s getting straight-A’s in school and has lots of friends. We love his personality and don’t want him to change.” We had seen how when other kids went on meds, they seemed to turn into zombies. Besides, I was a Special Education teacher whose major research project was on ADHD; a little impulsivity and lack of listening skills weren’t anything I couldn’t handle. I wasn’t that concerned.
I kicked it into high gear; I went through all my teacher files, both mentally and literally, and came up with the most awesome program ever. First, using an appropriate picture book, I explained to B that he had ADHD and what that meant. Then together, we came up with a list of things that might help him focus and be less impulsive. Things like squeezing a stress ball, and non-verbal reminders when he was getting silly. We trained him to be a self-advocate, telling teachers what he needed and what was hard for him. And I changed his diet, making sure he had a lots of whole grains and a protein-heavy breakfast to help keep his blood sugar at an even keel. Things were fine…. at first. But within a year or two it just wasn’t working any more. School was getting harder and the play dates were becoming fewer and far between. And on top of all that, he was driving us more crazy than ever with his impulsive behaviour and hyperactivity. Luckily, because of his winning smile, giant heart, and infectious laugh, his teachers still loved him and were willing to work with us to try and make things work.
By grade 5, we had thrown in the towel. Things were completely out of control. He was now really struggling, both academically and socially. We were getting mad at him all the time, even though logically I knew it wasn’t anything he could help. Do you know how guilty I felt thinking my own son was annoying? But that’s how I felt. And unfortunately, I was far from the only one. Out of ideas, we went back to the Dr. and agreed to try him on Biphentin. I felt like a huge failure. I mean, here I was, a Special Ed Specialist, telling other parents and other teachers how to help their kids and I can’t even help my own son? I also felt like I was giving up on him; like I didn’t think he had it in him to do this without chemical intervention. But by this point, we were so frustrated, there didn’t seem to be any other option.
The first day B tried it, we weren’t expecting much; we had been told that it could take up to two weeks to see a difference. He came home that day ecstatic. He said for the first time, he was able to sit and hear the teacher’s instructions. And follow them! From there, things just kept getting better. The meds opened up a whole new world. He could sit to do homework, was making new friends, and even was asked to join a special tennis team. We thought we had the best of both worlds; he was still his silly, happy self, but with less impulses and more focus. But then things changed. Again.
Without really noticing it, the kid who never stopped smiling had stopped smiling. And when I picked him up from school, instead of excitedly telling me about his day, he would just sit, quietly looking out the window. Little things, like another kid accidentally bumping into him in the hallway, would cause him to be sad all day. The smallest things, such as not understanding his math homework, made him so anxious that he was having meltdowns on a nightly basis. He started saying things like, “I don’t remember how to be happy” and “nothing makes me smile.”
I was worried. So worried. My son, who had already gone through so much, was now showing signs of depression. Not only that, but a student at my school, just one year older than B, had recently committed suicide. This made me understand just how real and how serious this situation could be. It also made me feel so helpless. But this wasn’t about me. I needed to help B. I decided that right after our Family Day vacation, I would make an appointment with a psychologist to find out exactly what was going on.
And then a miracle happened. When we went away, I forgot to pack his pills. Me, the walking pharmacy, the one who brings allergy medicine for the kids even though neither of them have any allergies and who brings a back-up asthma puffer and a back-up puffer to that one, forgot B’s pills. An hour into our road trip when I realized this, my husband and I looked at each other, worried and not knowing what to expect. What would he be like without the meds? What would happen?
What happened was the kid was happy. So happy. Happier than he had been in weeks. I asked him about it and he said that it felt like a cloud had been taken off of his head; that he felt lighter. Could it have been the meds?
When we returned form the trip, we went to his Dr. and told him about what had been happening. He agreed that it was most likely the meds. He said that in some kids, after about a year or so of treatment, anxiety and depressions could become side effects. He recommended that we keep him off all medication for while, have him seen by a psychologist to make sure there were no underlying depression or anxiety issues, and tell his teachers to “buckle up for a bumpy ride.” We followed his advice. The Dr. was right; the ride has been bumpy. He is off the wall in school, driving his friends, teachers, and us crazy, and is having trouble doing homework and following instructions. But his smile is back. And to me, that counts more than anything.
More good news? The psychologist does not think that he has any underlying conditions and doesn’t think he needs therapy. But what she does think is that he needs to go back on meds. She said (and a second, and third, opinion confirmed) that there is no therapy or changes in diet, that can curb his level of impulsivity and hyperactivity the way medication can. And while he is happy right now, after talking to him for a while about some of the things that have been getting him in trouble lately, she is afraid that he is going to start doing poorly in school again and all the gains he has made socially will be lost.
As a special education teacher and mother of two, Cayla has the privilege of being surrounded by tweens all day long! Needless to say, she appreciates the “alone time” recess provides. Cayla vents muses about her life on her blog, Running, Recipes, and Reading, an integral part of helping her center her life and find the beauty in humanity. Follow her on twitter: @runreadrecipe.