Let me start by saying that I’m no expert. I don’t have a degree in child psychology and I’m not a doctor. I am, however, the mother of a child with ADHD for 9+ years. What I will claim is experience. I hope our family’s experience will help yours.
Our son was diagnosed with ADHD over two years ago but his teachers have been pushing for us to medicate him since the day he started kindergarten. Grrrrrrrrrrrr. How frustrating to feel like teachers and loved ones were not only judging our son, Davis, but also treating him as if some pill could make life easier for THEM?! The simple truth we found, after much thought, research, and observation, is that a pill actually made life better for him.
Choosing to try medication to treat Davis’s ADHD was not a decision we came to lightly. Although my husband, Matt, had been on medication before for similar issues, we weren’t sure that popping a pill every morning was the right way to help Davis. We had so many worries concerning addiction, side effects, and how it would effect his self esteem. Although Davis was diagnose Developmentally Delayed at 15 months old, we were resistant to having him tested for further issues once he hit kindergarten. We didn’t want him to be labeled. We were afraid his teachers and friends would judge him. We were especially concerned that it would ruin his self esteem. All of those concerned turned around his first grade year. What was the catalyst? A loving and devoted teacher. Mrs. Beck (his first grade teacher) contacted me early in the year with concernes about Davis’s behavior during class, negative interactions with other students, and his ability to focus on and complete school work. We spent the fist half of the year up until Christmas working hand in hand trying different reward strategies, clear consequences, and structured classroom rules, only to be met with no success. By the time Decmeber rolled around we were both at our wits end. He was constantly distracted during lectures, frequently lashed out in physical ways towards fellow students, and had a complete disregard for the responsibilities placed on him.
While all of this was going on at school, I couldn’t ignore what was in my heart. At home he was constantly in trouble. I felt like I was yelling at him all the time because the first 5 times I asked nicely yielded no results. I could see that between school and home he was constantly being bombarded with a clear message, “you are not good”. I felt like I was failing him as a mother.
It was about this time Mrs. Beck called to see if I would meet with her and the school psychologist about Davis. The three of us sat down and first discussed the things Davis struggled with. At first I thought, “why are we focussing so much on what he’s doing wrong. He isn’t all bad!” It was when Mrs. Beck started to cry while describing a particularly difficult day for Davis that I realized, she wasn’t upset for herself, she was truly frustrated that she had to watch this student day in and day out struggle and fail. Her tears were for him. I was deeply touched. At that moment I put my defenses away and really listened. I asked her what we should do. She suggested testing for ADHD. How could I refuse? We were on the same side, helping Davis. She wanted to see him succeed, learn, grow, and build meaningful relationships with his peers. All of which had been arrested in the current situation.
First, I contacted my pediatrician to see where to start. He arranged the proper paperwork over the phone and the school psychologist carried out the actual testing. It included extensive surveys for Matt and I, his teacher, extended observation by the school psychologist of Davis in the classroom, as well as specific testing for Davis to rule out any other factors that may be contributing to his struggles (i.e. learning disabilities, hearing impairments, or other mental issues such as autism or Asp burgers) . When it was all said and done the result was clear, he had Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder.
It was strange, I wasn’t sad. I actually felt relieved. It’s like a patient who is sick that finally gets a diagnosis after years of testing. Now we could treat the issue. We might get results. We might finally begin to help Davis be happy.
I set Davis up on an IEP with the school so that the ADHD would be documented and he could get the full benefit from the school, such has extend and supervised testing for state tests. Next, I made a visit to my pediatrician with the results. Matt, Davis and I sat down with him and discussed medication options. Again, we were reluctant. Then my pediatrician told us about a study that was done with three focus groups of children, all of which were diagnosed sever ADHD. The first group had no help at all, just lived life as usual. The second group was treated with extensive therapy, meaning they saw a therapist at least three times a week for 2 hours at a time to help them learn to cope with ADHD. The third group was treated only with medication. After one month of the experiment the researchers deemed it unethical and stopped the whole thing. The reason why is that the third group’s success rate on medication so completely outweighed both of the other groups that they decided to deny the other kids the benefit of carefully prescribed medications was unethical.
Sold. Where do I sign?
I’m not going to lie, getting the right prescription and dosage is a lengthy and sometimes painful process, but in our case, well worth it. Once we were able to dial in the details of the prescription the change in Davis was immeasurable. He wasn’t a different or a perfect kid. He was still very much himself as far as his sense of humor or what excited or angered him, but he was able to complete a task when it was asked of him. He started focussing better in school and finishing school work. He was able to control his emotions, to include avoiding verbal and physical outbursts. In other words, he was able to do what he couldn’t before, control himself. That equaled increased happiness.
Shortly after Davis was diagnosed my husband, Matt was also diagnosed with ADHD as a result of relating to Davis’s struggles. He was able to find a medication that works for him. Researchers believe that as many was 4%-5% of adults and between 3%-10% of children struggle with ADHD. At first we talked to Davis a little about ADHD and his medication but not a ton. After Matt was diagnosed and started learning more about it we decided that, like it or not, this was a label that he would live with his whole life, so we have tried to make it a positive part of his identity. Matt has had many conversations with Davis about his own diagnosis, struggles, medication, and successes. There have been times when Davis was resentful of the medication and in those times we have tried to remind him of the positives of taking it. Matt reminds him of the truth; that people who are diagnosed ADHD are in a rare and elite group. There are no other people in the world that belong to it. This is a blessing. One day Davis told me that he didn’t want to take his pill because he didn’t want to get rid of his ADHD. Following Matt’s example, I explained that the pill doesn’t get rid of his ADHD, he is still the same unique person he is without it. However, I said, people with ADHD have different struggles and different talents than people who don’t. The pill he takes helps him control the things that are hard about ADHD so that the things that are great about it can shine through.
Is Davis the epitome of the perfect son, student, brother or friend? Um, no. He still has his struggles, just like everybody else. The difference is that on medication he has the ability to think and then react instead of living on impulse. Davis takes a pill because it helps him live a life that is happy and successful. The pill doesn’t make him happy and successful, the pill allows him to have control of himself therefore resulting in success and happiness.