My son was officially diagnosed with ADHD this year. This comes as no surprise to anyone who really knows him. I find myself in an interesting place, however. There are the parents who tell me they do not advocate use of medication (and for good reasons) and then there are those who, like me, put up a long battle and finally say to the doctor, "My child needs more than what I can do for him." Medication is a tricky deal. Side effects, risks from long-term usage, a journey that requires time and patience to adjust meds. My theory behind the medication is that it clears up his brain fog just enough so we can work on teaching new behaviors (making good choices, speech therapy, and how to organize). While I hope medication is not a long-term need, I do, however, know quite a few people with other disorders who will be on their meds for life. I see his need for meds but worry about it at the same time.
We did what so many others have done when a child seems recklessly driven by an internal motor like Tiny's: vitamins, changing diet, participation in physical activities such as sports and yoga, running the track before class or in-between classes, meditation and visualization exercises (yes, really), behavior modification, reward and consequences, stimulation gadgets he could fool with to burn off the fidgets and wiggles (he would ultimately break those), and adjusting sleep schedules. While elements of these things have relieved some of Tiny's tendencies to be on a constant search-and-destroy mission, they were no real redirection. One of the things that pushed me to look into medication was the acknowledgment that his behavior, documented in child study meetings, psychological evaluations, and countless emails with teachers, was making him feel like he was a failure, and nothing we were doing to naturally relieve his symptoms would help. One day, I said to my ex-husband as we discussed ways to help Tiny, "Imagine what it must be like to be him." Silence followed as we both digested the fact that our boy had become the stand-out in his school for a history of erratic, destructive, loud, paranoid, angry, and occasionally defiant, behavior. His academic performance was mediocre, but I have always known that within Tiny's body is a sharp, bright mind. How could we help him be who he needed to be?
Tiny is on a low dose of Adderall XR. He takes a multivitamin, which I have begun to give 30 minutes before his ADHD meds instead of at the same time, and two doses of fish oil a day. He sees two specialists who work with children who have ADHD, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. Something interesting is happening. While he is still the busy boy I would expect a boy to be--climbing, running, playing, building forts out of blocks or boxes and knocking them over with a triumphant hurrah--he is communicating far more clearly and causing less and less conflict at school and home. While he has always been Mommy's Tiny, as I call him, he is increasingly pleasurable to do things with. He takes his time to explain in detail why he needs his space/toys not encroached upon instead of yelling and throwing things. He follows directions quickly. His attention span has increased and he spends an hour if not longer on his legos or his elaborate drawings. He is working better toward long-term goals.
The hardship lies in sensitivity, which the addition of fish oil to his routine seems to abate lately. There have been many afternoons where he cries easily or is irritated easily by others. There was a meltdown at school one day last week--but it was only the second one in a month of the new treatment, whereas before, I was being emailed or called nearly daily with reports. Tiny is improving. He is also learning how to listen to his body when he needs to relax or change environments. He charts his own behavior on a calendar beside his activity table at home.
Moments ago, my son came to see me to ask permission to play outside. I told him to change out the t-shirt he was wearing for a long-sleeved shirt and to put socks on. He did as asked and came again to show me he had followed directions. He stood sweetly, his sandy hair framing his precious little face. I pulled him into my lap to tell him what a good boy he was, to say that he was the best boy in the world, and that I believed he was a gift. He tucked his head under my chin and cuddled. Then we talked about how his body was feeling and if he needed help with his occasional headaches (a side-effect). Tiny scooted out the door to play and returned moments later with a calm remark that the neighbor's kids weren't awake to play yet and that he was going upstairs to play legos. And on he went. I can hear him constructing a world and creating a narrative to go along with it--chatting and happy play noises becoming music against the clicking of my keyboard as a write. This scene would have played out in battle only a month or two ago.
I remember crying to my father a few years ago that Tiny was a special needs child and I was so frustrated with his lack of processing and understanding. He was this wild thing that wouldn't learn safety from painful accidents and for whom punishments meant nothing. He always was, though, what I told him this morning: the best boy in the world. And he always will be. We simply see more of the wondrous capacity he has to live happily than we have before. While medication is of great concern, great blessings have abounded because of it. I don't call it a cure-all, nor have I advocated it to other parents yet. Instead, I operate on a wait-and-see basis. Each child's mind and biology are unique. What I have found though is beautiful support from other parents with special children. For this, I thank each of you--keep the support and the ideas coming.