Our Story ~ This is my cute boy and he has ADHD. He has an "invisible" mental disorder that affects his focus, self-control (impulsive), learning, Executive Functioning Skills, social skills and ability to think into the future (cause and effect of actions). He has also been diagnosed with some sensory processing issues, anxiety and depression and ODD, or Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which blossoms in the form of runaway attempts, belligerence, intentional button-pushing and defiance toward everyone in our family. Parenting is difficult enough without having a kiddo that appears totally normal but struggles inwardly in so many ways. Years ago before his issues came with a name, I didn't believe in the 'diagnosis' or idea of ADHD. It wasn't until the issues that he had had since he was two (issues that went far beyond regular toddler behavior) grew worse with each year until I would spend almost every night in tears of exasperation and wonderment. When he was finally diagnosed by a neuro-psychologist at age seven, I was still in a perplexed state because I didn't know what ADHD really meant or what to do about it. It's even more to swallow when the top recommendation is a prescription for stimulant medication, an antidepressant, then whatever else is needed to deal with the side effects of those drugs.
His ADHD has been something that has been lurking beneath the surface since the time he was one. His disposition was usually sour and he has always been very emotionally erratic which has intensified with age and with the increase of demands put on him. He has never dealt with transition well and threw frequent tantrums well before and beyond the 'terrible two's.' His inability to articulate his feelings and go through seemingly 'automatic thought-processes' lead still to outbursts, tantrums and complete and utter eruptions and meltdowns. He didn't understand how to get attention in a positive way which also affected his relationships with his peers. He also had no sense of personal space. He was extraordinarily unpredictable and it had an enormous daily impact on the family. On the flip side he could also be amazingly loving, empathetic and compassionate and would often say the sweetest prayers asking for help to be good, not get 'think times' and to think before he does something bad. It could be a toss-up from day to day which little guy we would get to enjoy or avoid that day.
He struggled immensely staying on task in the first grade and I eventually came to class twice a week just to help him with his work and stay focused; he was getting into trouble. This was when I received my first phone call from the principal. I never thought that I would come to speak with the principal regularly. My little guy started getting in trouble through impulsive behavior whether it was to get a rise out of the other student(s), because he was 'white hot angry,' or because he 'just did it.' I've had the school bus parked in front of my house several times and bewildered that that could actually happen. (The good news is that we weren't the first!).
He eventually started meeting with the school counselor weekly one-on-one and also in a group to help with his social skills. I thought that come summer time being out of school, things would lighten up a little because he would have more attention from me and I could monitor his behavior more consistently.To my surprise and chagrin, his behavior escalated rapidly. There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't cry. I had already tried altering his diet and application of essential oils. I tried adding trace minerals, tuna omega oil pills and other vitamins. I cut back on video game and television time. Nothing seemed to be improving - I felt so helpless. It was time for some outside help.
I took him to see a neuropsychologist and with some official diagnoses, I had a starting point from which to operate from. Overwhelmed, but determined, I immersed myself in understanding what this diagnosis meant for my little guy and our family. The psychologist recommended putting an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, into place with the school district. Weekly therapy for behavior modification,and books and classes on effective parenting skills for me as the parent were also recommended. I took two 4-week parenting classes - Love and Logic and 1-2-3 Magic, both of which have proven imperative for raising a child with an invisible disorder (or any child for that matter) and in saving my own personal sanity.
Along with behavior modification techniques I bit the bullet and tried a few different medications - a low-dose Zoloft for his depression and Concerta for the ADHD. The meds did help for several hours of the day until the cornucopia of side effects, the 'off hours' and lessening effectiveness of the drugs left me considering new routes; some issues and behaviors had been exacerbatedby the meds. I began to read more about the long-term effects of medication along with understanding that to maintain effectiveness, dosages had to be increased regularly - this was difficult for me to swallow. I was referred to a podcast with Dr. John Gray (author of the Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus books) in which he outlines a specific supplementation regiment that I started, along with some other dietary alterations, in December of 2011. My kiddo experienced a good 6-8 weeks of horrendous withdrawal (both behavior and stomach upset) but once seemingly detoxed of the meds, he made tremendous strides. He was gaining weight, sleeping at night and for the most part, very manageable.
No one approach has seemed to have complete lasting power and as grades dropped in middle school and his focus was non-existent, it was time to take another look at meds. This was again, a hard pill to swallow (pun-intended). But, in the end, I had to look at what was going to be most beneficial to him and if there was something out there that we hadn't tried yet that might help, I was all for it. His Doctor wanted to start with a non-stimulant med, Strattera, which has made a huge difference. As a Freshman in highschool he is getting A's and B's and is actually working really hard and seeing some amazing results. I have to admit that whatever the difference may be from school to school, his IEP actually seems to be working for him this year. I also wanted to note that doctors always told me that some behaviors should mellow-out as he got older and I am very happy to report that this is true! There is hope my friends! For the last couple of years, teachers have not complained about attention-getting or problematic behavior.
ADHD is very real and often-times very heartbreaking; there is no one-size-fits-all method or treatmentto this disorder and I find myself constantly rotating through various approaches with him. I'm VERY grateful to say that working with his diet, positive outlets, behavior modification, parenting techniques, and with him just getting older it is easier to spend a little more time finding and focusing on the positives. He is still defiant, emotionally erratic, and can cause trouble but his baseline is manageable. The psychologist once commented to me that "it is human nature to cycle" through dispositions which accounts to the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde waves we have ridden. I've seen this in my own life and it is a valuable point to recall when the tough gets going and to simply offer a little grace from time to time. We also all have 'off' days or simply wake-up on the 'wrong side of the bed' -the goal is to have more good days than bad and to pick carefully -very carefully - the battles worth fighting.Ultimately, the relationship is most important and that can be maintained while standing firm in your expectations.
This is our ongoing journey; I started this blog to share what I learn and hopefully open a forum to other parents in my situation to share their own experiences. Many heads working together are better than one going it alone. I've also learned that I have to take care of myself first and foremost. I'm not much good to my kids as the Wicked Witch of the West (they'll just be secretly hoping that a house lands on me!). More than anything, these kids need someone in their corner, a mentor, advocate and lots and lots of love and patience from you.