By Meika Rouda
No parent wants to drug their child. I really believe no one. While the media would have us think that American parents are all eagerly waiting on line to grab ADHD drugs or anxiety medication or anti depressants for their children, it just isn’t true. Medication is the last resort, when everything else has failed and when you start to watch your child suffer unnecessarily. I know this because I am one of those parents.
After many years of denial, I truly believe our son has ADHD. He is not a typical case, he is very social and can follow through on certain tasks. But he is high energy, impulsive and struggles with his behavior. He has no impulse control. For a long time I thought he could do better, with discipline, or incentives and rewards or occupational therapy so he could control his body or behavior therapy to help him understand his feelings or more exercise to get the energy out or a diet free of sugar and gluten or with natural supplements. Some of these things have helped but none of them have helped enough. He is seven now and still has trouble coping with some basic self control. When we finally had him evaluated for medication, after going back and forth for several months, the psychiatrist told my husband and I to think of it this way, “If you have trouble seeing and need to wear glasses to correct your vision, no one thinks it is bad. Medicating for ADHD is like giving your son glasses. You can’t expect someone with vision problems to read or see if they don’t have their glasses on, and you can’t expect a kid with ADHD to focus and be in control if they don’t have medication.” According to this doctor, ADHD is a neurological disorder that is very real and no therapy or diet is going to cure it. It needs to be managed with mediation and behavior therapy in order for the child to succeed. I didn’t like hearing this at all. But what I really didn’t want to accept is that he had ADHD and it would be something he may struggle with his whole life.
The first time he was diagnosed with ADHD was two years ago and when the developmental pediatrician met with me to give me her assessment, I cried. I also didn’t believe it. While he had some symptoms, he was in the gray area for most of them. I believed he had sensory processing issues that we were treating with weekly OT. But as he turned six and nothing changed and then seven, I watched his impulsivity continue, his inability to stop himself from doing something even when he knows he shouldn’t . Like hitting his sister or acting obnoxiously at the dinner table banging silverware or talking too loudly. What I used to think of him doing purposely, like not listening or throwing things if he is angry, I now believe he really can’t control. It took a long time for me to realize that he wasn’t ignoring me, he just can’t listen and process the way other kids can.
He can cope well because he is a great kid, a good friend to his peers and charismatic. Kids forgive him for him impulsive ways because he has a lot of redeeming qualities.
And while this is a huge plus for him. I did start to see him struggle with social situations and suffer at school. He bit a friend at school because he was mad at him. If he were two or three I would expect this behavior but not at seven. At seven you get sent to the principal. When I asked him why he bit him he told me ” I just couldn’t help it.” We have talked endlessly about using words and not his body when he is upset and he has made a lot of progress but there are still set backs, like the biting incident. And I suddenly realized that he wasn’t able to trust himself and he was loosing self esteem because of it. That is when things really fall apart, when kids lose self esteem, it is so hard to get it back.
When my son was diagnosed the first time, I was talking with an acquaintance whose teenage son has ADHD. She is a nurse who works in a hospital and has seen a lot of trauma. She told me that “Parenting an ADHD child is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.” I thought at the time she was being dramatic but now I understand what she meant. There are many times I feel totally overwhelmed and frustrated by my son, his inability to listen or follow though, how he won’t look adults in the eye and say hello or act politely when it is expected of him, when he constantly grabs toys right out of his friend’s hands or yells every sentence for no reason or refuses to eat because he doesn’t like the food that he specifically asked for. It drives me nuts this constant power struggle and that I can’t rely on him to act appropriately in any situation. That sometimes his behavior embarrasses me because I know people think it is my fault, that I should be doing a better job controlling my son or teaching him manners or setting boundaries. The feeling of failure you feel as parent not being able to do anything to change the behavior, or to help him. And then you watch him struggle as he loses faith in himself and gets pegged as the “bad kid” against his will. Because he just can’t help it. ADHD is a silent disorder that hangs like a cloud around him. Some days he is great, the clouds have broken and the sun is shining through, but just as sudden as a summer storm, they may come back again and pour rain when you least expect it.
And that is why you go to medication, because you know you have done everything you can do and it isn’t working. Just like eating a lot of carrots and doing eye exercises won’t fix impaired vision, getting a pair of glasses will. Medication may have its downfalls too, I know it isn’t a magic solution either but if he can feel in control of himself, my hope is that he will gain confidence and trust himself again. Where he can be the bright, funny, sensitive, charismatic kid that I adore, the kid I know he wants to be, the one with the sun shining over his head.
Photo Credit: Jucanilis