By Vicki Little
Every morning in my house, it’s the same story. I beg over and over for my son to get ready. To keep my son moving along, I continuously ask questions like: “Are your teeth brushed?” Then, after his inevitable response of “oops, sorrrrrry!” I whisper to myself: “Count to 10.” Repeat. I had started rating my mornings based on how calm I was after I kissed my son goodbye. Little did I know he was rating his mornings based on how impatient I got with him. And little did I know what was really happening in his mind.
When my son’s Kindergarten teacher recommended that the first step we needed to take in getting him enrichment activities at school was to get him tested for ADD or ADHD, her words were like a knife in my heart. As she pointed out, being bored and being distracted look very similar in school-age children. At first I was mad. I knew my son was getting distracted because he was bored. What in the world was she talking about? But then I took the evaluation for him, and I started to observe him. And then I thought about all of our other struggles with him. Being my first child, I just assumed my overly-active kiddo was acting like a kid. Every child forgets what they are doing in the midst of getting dressed, right? It takes everyone an extra hour to get out the door because of stubborn and curious kids…. Right? Turns out this is true, but only to a certain extent. The constant changes of direction we were seeing in my son was an indication that something else was going on.
Two days after his teacher recommended this, I decided to make the appointment because of a conversation with my little guy. We were in the car, and he said, “Mommy, it makes me mad that I can’t stop thinking all the time.” I asked him what he thought about and he said, “Anything. Like why the wind blows the trees so hard, and why it has to snow so much, and why Eddy doesn’t like to play football, and how many seconds are in a billion minutes. I just can’t ever stop, Mommy. Even when I am so tired.”
Turns out, while I was playing 20 questions in the morning, his mind was like a freshly opened browser with 10 windows open. One window had the action that I was currently asking of him. The second tab had ideas of how to get dressed in a really cool way. The third held something he knew he was forgetting but couldn’t quite put his finger on. And so forth. Those other tabs each hold something that is really important to him, even if I don’t understand it. His little computer brain has a glitch, so it constantly switches between tabs without him even intending to do so. And like any computer glitch, it is very frustrating for him.
Something was wrong with my child. My husband and I sat down with our son and decided the best thing to do would be to visit the pediatrician, hear what she had to say, and then do some research. We figured once we found out what was going on, we could find some solutions on how to manage it.
We filled out the questionnaire for the pediatrician with nervous laughter. It seemed like our son fit more of the criteria than we had initially thought — even his uncontrollable anger was on there. When we got to the question asking if it was difficult to follow conversations with him, we felt a sense of relief. I have often told others that just because my son isn’t looking at you, it doesn’t mean he isn’t listening. In fact, I have found that sometimes he listens better when his eyes are darting all around because then I know he isn’t zoning out on me. I had a few people ask me if he was autistic. Someone advised for us to get his hearing checked. One mom declared that I simply needed to punish him when he didn’t look at me because he had poor manners. He honestly isn’t trying to be rude, he just simply can’t put his eyes and his ears on you at the same time! For those who are reading this and nodding your heads in agreement while feeling like maybe I am describing your child, here are other symptoms of ADHD:
- Has a hard time paying attention or makes careless mistakes.
- Does not seem to listen when being spoken to.
- Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities.
- Gets distracted by outside stimuli.
- Is easily annoyed, angry or resentful.
- Is hard on him/herself.
- Has a “tic.” (A tic is a movement or sound that is repeated without purpose. For example my son will snap his fingers over and over without realizing it.)
That list is not meant to be complete, nor is it intended to be a “diagnosis tool” for you. Your child can have all of these symptoms without having ADHD or have only one and have ADHD. Your pediatrician will be able to help you determine what is “normal” behavior and what may indicate ADHD.
Once the diagnosis was official, the big question loomed before us: to medicate or not to medicate. Believe me, I have heard every single loud opinion out there, and I have heard every whispered one as well. I was extremely thorough on my research. We talked with our pediatrician at length. Ultimately, what made our decision for us was knowing that our son needed some immediate help at school. We knew he was unhappy and that school was a struggle for him, both socially and academically. That proverbial squirrel was affecting his daily life in a very negative way.
So when we met with his pediatrician I told her that out of all of the options I had read about, I knew that I wanted a medication that went in and out of his system quickly. From the beginning I wanted to let my son just be free from everything on the weekends or when he wasn’t in school. Further, I wanted to be able to see if there was a significant difference in his personality when he took his medication versus when he didn’t.
That very first day was terrifying. He was so jittery he was causing all of us to feel anxious. He kept snapping his fingers and he just kept doing project after project. He made a whole family of paper elephants, and then immediately moved on to another project. He was talking a mile a minute, and I was having a hard time not putting a pillow over my head to drown out the constant noise for just one minute. I went through an immense amount of guilt knowing I was the reason he was so jittery. I felt like I had let him down. I almost took him to the ER.
After locking myself in the bathroom and crying because I felt like a horrible mother, I called his pediatrician, who assured me that unfortunately this is a side effect the first time the medicine is given. I still wasn’t satisfied so I called the Children’s Hospital’s nurse line. They agreed with my pediatrician and gave me some “if-this-happens-bring-him-in” advice. My son had never had caffeine, and rarely ate sugar, so this was quite a surprise to his system. The next day was better. After a weekend off of the medication, he didn’t experience the same problems going back on during the school week. I, however, took a bit longer getting over the mom-guilt.
After the first month, I almost took him off the medicine because I didn’t see a difference. But it turns out that both he and his teacher did. He was enjoying school again, he got the enrichment activities and was thriving in them, and he was getting along much better with his peers. He was less anxious and emotional, and he was able to think things through. However, I didn’t want to just rely on the medicine. Especially since he was so young. It is kind of scary that one tablet a day can change someone so much. I wondered if I was seeing his real personality or something medicated. So I did some more research.
In first grade, I tried a little experiment where I did not give my son his medicine for a short three-day school week. I didn’t tell his teacher because I didn’t want her to just watch him all day to see if she noticed, I wanted an honest opinion. I was waiting for him after school on Monday when she motioned me over and handed me a minuscule piece of chewed up pencil and told me this had been a new pencil at the start of the day. My son had eaten all of it in his attempt not to fidget or get distracted during class.
This year, I tried the same thing when we were in the midst of getting a refill. My son came home in a horribly upset mood after having a hard day, and his teacher pulled me aside and mentioned that she wasn’t sure what was going on, but my son had done very poorly on a reading test that he should have been able to pass. I told her about my experiment, and she let him retake the test. She also said the next day she noticed that he was OK in the morning, but by the afternoon, he was fidgety and irritable. As for how he was at home, I couldn’t tell a difference in his personality. He was the same silly, joking, loving, active boy that he always is.
The bottom line is my son’s life is incredibly hard for him when he isn’t on his medicine. He is unhappy and he has a hard time doing very basic things that should be easy for him. He can’t focus in class and he is very anxious, angry and hard on himself. So for now, we are giving him medicine on the days he has school or a weekend activity that requires a lot of focus. As long as that smile stays on my son’s face, I am OK with this course of action while we test different solutions as well.
“My Kid Has ADHD…. Now What?” is the first in a three-part series on having a child who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. Her son was diagnosed with ADHD in 2012. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. When she isn’t writing or trying to keep up with her kids she can be found volunteering, reading, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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