At 5 years old, I knew my son was – shall we say – energetic. After completing two years of pre-school I noticed that while he was excelling academically he struggled with impulsivity and had a complete inability to focus. It was in the beginning of kindergarten that I decided that I should find out the schools perception of my son so I would know if further action was warranted. Fortunately for me, both his 4 year old Pre-school teacher and his kindergarten teachers were amazing. They were patient and kind to my otherwise “spacey and wiggly” little boy. Armed with their insight and a folder full of internet education, I finally approached my son’s pediatrician. With some monitoring, Conner scales, and other testing we determined that my son was ADHD.
The diagnosis was not as scary for me as the implications of medicating were. I was terrified of what the medication would do to the way my son saw the world. He was bright and vibrant, inquisitive and illuminated. I didn’t want him to become clouded just so he would sit still. At 5 years old, medicating seemed drastic and on some levels lazy. I hadn’t tried anything else at that point. I hadn’t changed our diets or home routines. I just knew that his lack of focus and need for constant motion was creating a culture for him that was not warm and happy. He was constantly waiting to be corrected and struggled with his self every minute of every day just to try to “be good”. It was heart wrenching to watch as a mother. I knew we had to make changes.
Deciding that we weren’t going to jump right on to a medication routine, I started with diet. We eliminated all artificial colorings, flavorings, preservatives, and anything that didn’t occur naturally for food. We began buying organic or Amish born meats to eliminate any hormones that can be injected into foods and even reduced our gluten and casein intake at one point. I created charts, stars, self-esteem builders, routines, task lists, check lists, repetitive chores, and anything else that the books said to do. We joined karate geared towards kids with behavior management disorders and took music lessons with a qualified special education teacher. We tried everything and naively for a little while, we thought it was working.
It was when my son began first grade that we first realized that what we were doing wasn’t enough. I had already established a strong relationship with the Child-Study team and met with his teachers to develop a strong learning plan that would best benefit my son. Not long into the school year, however, I began to notice that my son’s personality seemed different. His outlook was darker and he was easily set off. I knew as he progressed in school and the work became more challenging that we may have to adjust our learning plan, but the change was almost instantaneous and was actually mind blowing. My once happy-go-lucky wiggly little boy was sad – legitimately sad.
His school work wasn’t being completed and his academics began to suffer. Infuriatingly though, he was getting all of the information. If you asked him how to do a certain math problem or read his spelling words, he could! Easily! But trying to get him to commit to finishing his classwork had started to become a real challenge for his teachers. He would come home very despondent and feeling as if his teachers didn’t like him since he couldn’t control himself.
I would like to say that it was a school thing but at home I found myself correcting him too often as well. I tried to consciously make sure that I acknowledged the good things regardless of how little they were, but it was difficult. Let’s be honest – how many times should you have to tell a child to brush his teeth while he is holding the tooth brush in his hand with toothpaste on it already. My son’s demeanor began to change. He didn’t expect positive comments anymore. He could only hear the negative things to the point that he stopped believing me when I tried to give him positive reinforcement. This was a real wake up call for me. I had to put my prejudices aside and do what was best for my child.
December 20th, 2013. It was the last day of school before winter break and the first day that my son took Ritalin. He had an assembly that day that he performed in. The kids sang and danced – it was lovely. I watched my son in awe as he knew all the words to the songs. But I also saw a side of him that was unfamiliar to me. He was mellow. I immediately began second guessing the medication. It was a low start dose, only 20 milligrams, but this mellow child was not one that I was knew at all. I hated myself in that moment for giving it to him, for ruining his assembly for him, for taking the fun out of it for him. I was convinced at that moment that I would never give it to him again.
When it was finally over, I ran up to him ready to apologize and spend a small fortune trying to fix his ruined Christmas pageant. What I ended up with was a slap in the face and one big realization. He didn’t tell me he was tired or sad. He didn’t tell me that he didn’t care or want to be there. He simply said to me “mommy, did you see me? I sang every song with everyone else. They didn’t have to tell me to calm down. Mommy, not even once! Did you see me do the donkey dance?” There it was, my ah-ha moment. What I was witnessing was a child that wasn’t fighting with himself. It was a child that was confident in what he accomplished and felt like he had a successful day. My unfamiliar boy was actually my happy, proud boy – I just hadn’t seen him in a while.
Our success climbed from there. There was a huge difference in his performance at school and with his friends. He was getting all of his work done and felt good at the end of the school day. He was completing his homework and his chores with hardly any problems. That isn’t to say that it was without work. We still had to utilize task lists and organization methods. We have a chore board and a star chart. But overall, he became happier mainly because his days were more successful. He could accomplish what he expected to.
Medicating wasn’t an easy choice and there are some definite downsides to using a drug like Ritalin. My peanut son has peaks and valleys when it comes to eating. He’s lost a couple pounds but is healthy on a whole. We also had to change our bedtime routine to include 1 milligram of melatonin because the medication he takes tends to keep him awake at night. Some days we have a slight rebound effect around dinner time when he can get really emotional for pretty much no good reason, but those days are few and far between.
We are now onto month 3 of medication and my almost 7 year old seems to be doing well, even thriving with the addition of Ritalin. I challenged the idea of using it for over a year out of fear of the implications involved with it, however, I had no idea that a medication plan could be as mild as his is and still yield such great results. Medicating isn’t a cure-all and I still have a lot of work that I have to do on a daily basis to make sure my son can have the most successful days possible. However, it does help him focus on his tasks and helps him to realize to take a breath when he needs to. Having that personal power enables him to feel good about his days, not defeated. I don’t know where this path will lead or how long it will work for us, but I can tell you that after being an anti-medication mom that I was terribly misinformed. Medication does not have to be the have-all and end-all of childhood. It can be a temporary reprieve to rebuild a good routine. It can be a small bridge to close the gap between focused and distracted. It can be difference between singing a song and feeling like the song went on without you.