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My Kid Has ADHD…. Now What?

© depositphotos.com/nacorn
© depositphotos.com/nacorn

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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5 Comments

  1. Christina
    June 16, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

    Aloha Vicki. Thanks for the article. My nine year old boy has a similar way of being and felt a call to reach back.

    I am ok with almost everything you said in your very heartfelt story and wish you peace dear sister on this journey.

    However I am not ok with one comment however in reference to the parents who don’t think this label is “real”.

    I think “real” is a relative concept…a Very different experience for many people depending on his/her level of awareness.

    Iwould like to offer a concept for you to consider: my son is NOT ADHD though he sounds almost identical to yours in terms of behavior.

    My understanding for him(although of course this doesn’t mean that its true for all) is that his brain is working at a high capacity that only a computer is truly able to keep up with and our education is actually failing to support his level intelligence and emotional needs for growth.
    HES BORED!!!!!!!!!lol

    In addition, my son is an intuitive who navigates a world that is often filled with electronic frequencies, distractions and frenetics that overwhelm his sensitive nature and “short” his brain, so to speak.

    I am also this type of person and struggled myself with school. I also ended up graduating magma cum lauds from college and became a professional writer.
    I know from personal experience with myself and him that diet IS the absolute most important thing seconded by reduction of
    daily “noise”.

    I know that there are people who choose to medicate instead of adjust their lifestyles and I totally respect that.

    I just wanted to share a different reality with you… Maybe it helps, maybe not.

    I still utilize the info from the add stuff to help manage in a pinch until I get his diet back in control when we deviate from what he needs …

    (btw a TON of protein… Complex proteins especially and oils!!!)
    Our kinds of brains needs a lot of food!!lol
    More than you can shine…haha!

    But really, I think ADHD is a belief. It’s pretty new in terms of the medical world and seems much more geared toward the bandaid fix than addressing root issues of imbalance wothin the individual actual constitution and may even cause more severe long term issues when medicated…and at least, not strengthen the individual like nutrition does.

    Anyway, my ten cents;)
    Much love
    Christina

    Ps feel free to email me if u wanna compare notes:)

    Reply

    • Vicki
      June 16, 2015 @ 9:34 pm

      Hi Christina!
      Thank you for your comments, it is helpful when I hear others understand the struggle. One point in particular you made is in reference to your son’s brain working at a high capacity. This is true for my son as well, and we have gone through all sorts of IQ tests and other tests in order to get him some much needed help at school. Before they would even start the enrichment for him in Kindergarten, it was recommended that we get him tested for ADD/ADHD so that they could rule that out as a factor in his behavior at school. So we did, and in fact, the correlation between ADHD and giftedness is very high.

      This does make it very very tricky for us. We have learned that it is important to really make sure what we are dealing with is something related to ADHD and not the giftedness itself. There are times it is very obvious, such as when he takes standardized tests. He really enjoys taking those and he considers it something fun and challenging at the same time. There was one day when he didn’t take his medication before school on a day they took the test. He was very distracted and discouraged. He was frustrated that he couldn’t finish in time. This wasn’t because he didn’t know the answers, it was because he would get distracted. He took the test a bit later when he WAS on his medicine (same test) and he was able to finish in time, and was still challenged.

      I should have also mentioned that my son is very much a “textbook case” of ADHD, and on the extreme side. On our journey, I have learned that I have similar attention issues as well, but it isn’t something that we ever really addressed for me. My friends, however, would say that they knew for years that I can’t focus on one thing to save my life. 🙂 I have never taken medication for this and if I thought that he would be able to adapt even close to I did (I can’t really say successfully-believe me I have had plenty of struggles and failures) I wouldn’t even put him on medicine for the weekdays. So until we can figure out those tweeks and behavior changes it is our band-aid.

      We do have him on a diet similar to what you mentioned. We rarely have sweets in the house, even their popsicles are the real fruit ones (believe me, I would MUCH rather pay the $5 for a hundred for the cheap ones but it isn’t worth it!), no soda, lots of protein. You did make me think, though, that maybe throwing in one of the kid-friendly protein shakes in the morning is worth a try. Perhaps we just haven’t hit the level he needs.

      I agree that I do not want his medication to be a band-aid for the issues in the long run. This is the primary reason that we do not give it to him on the weekends or during breaks from school. We want him to learn how to manage his struggles and find different solutions. I have talked with his pediatrician at length about where she thinks he will be in the long run, and she is aware of my feelings on medicating him and wanting to find other solutions and she is very receptive to any feedback we offer. Ultimately, though, seeing him so upset every single time he came home from school was worth the band-aid for now. Kids these days have so many more issues than we did, so many more things to struggle through and adapt to. His emotional well-being for the long run was at risk.

      I will email you soon! It would be great to swap war stories and ideas!

      Thanks again,
      Vicki

      Reply

  2. Christina
    June 16, 2015 @ 2:37 pm

    Ps… Starry for the typos;;))

    Reply

  3. Donna L. Hartman
    March 9, 2017 @ 10:59 pm

    I believe you could benefit greatly by contacting my brother, Carl Hartman who live in Loveland ,CO. He deals a lot with ADHD; many in our family have it. One of the situations that happens is that most teachers are not trained on how to deal with ADHD, which is not a negative, ADHD people are the movers and shakers in our world.eg: Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and many more.
    YThe situatoin is that your son would benefit from being in an ADHD learning environment , which is totally different from a “normal” public school classroom. Myself, I have been a public school and private lesson teacher for over 40 years. My brother has opened my eyes to my full potential, and is educating many people and helping ADHD persons to live a happy, adjusted life.

    Reply

  4. Mary G
    April 27, 2017 @ 9:15 pm

    I like your article and I too understand your struggles. I love Christina’s comments too. My daughter was diagnosed with ADD. She was a typical kid with the usual hyper times, always took forever to do stuff, never seems focused and couldn’t pay attention. She also is a very smart kid and was bored in class as well. She tested into advanced classes which did help but her teacher said the same things you both said she couldn’t stay on task, day dreamed, and wasn’t doing as well as she knew she could do. Her doctor had us do the quesionaire and told us to only do research on ADD on certain internet sites he gave us and we should medicate her.
    However, I did research EVERYWHERE. I talked to numerous people, and I wanted to try everything I could first to help, prior to medicine. My niece was already medicated for ADHD and she was always sluggish acting and lost her appetite. I hated seeing her that way but I respect each families choice. It’s a hard choice and we all know what our children and family needs, or at least we pray we are do and are making the right choices.
    I actually started talking to a grandmother at my church that put me in touch with her daughter who has 3 kids all with either ADHD, or ADD, 😳 . She had found a diet through research called “The Feingold diet”. It’s an elimination diet initially devised by Benjamin Feingold, MD. (1899–1982) following research in the 1970s which appeared to link food additives with hyperactivity; by eliminating these additives and various foods the diet was supposed to alleviate the condition. Let me say, THIS REALLY WORKS and was exactly what I was searching for.
    The diet is lengthy to try and it isn’t fun, but it starts the child out on a bland diet and slowly introduces things in. For my child we quickly relized that all the food she was eating was causing her issues (not that she ate bad but it was bad for her). She isn’t just triggered (like parents think) by sugar and caffeine; although high amounts did cause her issues. She’s triggered by all the fake addictives in food and certain foods. Just like my “new friends” kids she couldn’t eat apples, strawberries, or anything with artificial colors or flavors.
    We told her teacher we were trying something and we would touch base after the week to see what she thought. After 1 week of eliminating all the dyes and fake stuff we could see an improvement at home. I’ll never forgot her teachers face when she met with me at the end of the week. She said “I have no idea what your trying but keep it up”. Now my daughter was never disobedient in school but because she didn’t focus that distracted others when the teacher tried to keep her attention. After a month she went from a b-c kid to an a-b kid with her grades. She made more friends, became more outgoing, focused and was easier to deal with at home.
    Now fast forward 8 years, and I now have a junior in high school that’s got a 4.0 gpa. and plans to be a doctor. Wow, if I knew then what I know now I’d have really given that doctor a talking too.
    Is this diet going to work for every kid, No! I do truly believe that there are kids that need medicated for physical or mental things that will improve their livelihood but something as simple as their diet should be the doctors first recommendation to try. I suggest and have, that anyone that has the time, patience, and are willing to try this diet (even if for a summer) to see if it shows you your kids trigger foods if any should.
    Now my daughter knows that she’s rather feel better, than eat junk food. That’s not to say that she doesn’t occasionally still eat a starburst, etc. she just does it fully aware that it may effect her. Therefore so doesn’t do it before a test. Also she loves apples and strawberries, so she eats them in moderation, again not before a test.
    If you’ve never heard of this diet or tried it, I would really recommend it for anyone with a child or an adult that wants to see if certain foods trigger or alter your mental ability to be the best you can be.
    Just my thought though. I’ll pray for all of you parents struggling to make the right choices for your children. It’s definitely hard being a good parent but so worth it.

    Reply

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