...but only so an hour
This, despite the fact that I'm turning 37 this month

All day long I was weepy, randomly leaking at the eyes. In the van, on the way to the doctor, I saw a woman walking to her car, holding a toddler by the hand. I looked at her, hobbled by this tedious journey, and felt a sharp pang of longing for those slow, simple days. I turned the radio up louder, much to the raucous delight of the boys, and I cried.

At the office, the doctor sat down with Max's file and read for a minute. Then he looked at me. This is a topic, oh so well covered by us. The conversation always ends up in the same place. "So," I say breezily, "I'm not ready to try medication just yet." He nods and tells me to call when I'm ready.

For nine and a half years I've been trying to come up with a better answer. I'm ready.

"So," Doctor S said, "what makes you ask about medication for ADD?"

I told him, reciting the list in my head. Impulsive, distractable, not working up to his potential in school, often frustrated and shocked by how much he is irritating others. Max was no longer taking the amino acid we'd been trying (tyrosine - it helped. Not enough), and he was completely off the rails. While I talked, he turned flips on the floor. Raphael sat quietly on one side of the room, Tre on the other, and Max ping-ponged between them like he was auditioning for the part of ADD poster child. Doctor S finally shot him a look.

"Yes, I could see where this could be disruptive," he said dryly. He told me about the different medications, wrote a prescription for one that I keep wanting to pronounce like it's the female form of a concerto, and sent us on our way. I thanked him and headed out the door.

And then I cried.

I do not know why this is so hard for me. I knew the first time they put Max in my arms that he was different. Just different. That has both good and bad implications. He is breathtakingly insightful, and creative. There is such potential in him.

But there are such barriers to that potential. I see him, striving to overcome the chaos that surrounds him, seeps through him, and he is bewildered. It's as though the world were randomly obscured in places, and he cannot fit it all together. And he cannot just. stop. doing things that make his brothers insane. Make me insane. Make himself insane.

In the homeschool community there is much rhetoric about ADD being over diagnosed. People talk about how the schools just want to drug our children - especially our sons - into submission. I used to believe that. Tre, an extremely kinesthetic learner, would probably have been suspected of ADD his first grade year. I was smug about the fact that he was just a different learner, and needed a different environment to learn. Tre does his school work sitting on an exercise ball, and it works really well for him.

I have never, never been able to find the right environment for Max. Music, silence, activity, cubical-style seating, looking out on the back yard, looking at the wall. Nothing helped. Nothing pierced the chaos that dogs him.

I do not want to drug my son into submission. My hope is that the drug will, instead, be his escape.

One day last week I was alone, driving to the gym. On the way there I was listening to a talk show. Dr. Daniel Amen was on, talking about his new book about sex and the brain. Dr. Amen wrote a book about ADD (that was where I'd read about tyrosine). His big thing is brain scans, to determine where the activity - and lack thereof - is going on in the brain. Max's type of ADD is caused by low activity in the prefrontal cortex (if I remember correctly).

He was talking to the host about how his daughter's boyfriend had offered to have his brain scanned after they'd been dating awhile, knowing that Dr. Amen wanted that. And of course, this young man had a excellent, healthy brain. Not that he would have discouraged the relationship if it had been otherwise. "But if I had, for instance, seen decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, I would have warned her, this is someone who is always going to have issues with impulsive behavior. He's going to have trouble sustaining relationships, if he doesn't take measures to deal with that."

I thought of my Max, put my head down on the steering wheel, and cried and cried and cried.

The first day on the medication, Max did three pages of math. On the blank page opposite his work sheet, he had only written math problems, neatly numbered, where he had worked out the answers. I flipped back a page, to the day before. That day, all he had done - the whole school day - was one page of math. It was nearly illegible, with scribbles and erasures. On the blank page were scrawled drawings. A third of the problems were wrong.

I flipped back and forth, a stop action movie of chaos to order.

Maybe this isn't a dead end, at all.

Maybe it's a new beginning.

Comments

Alison

I have been back and forth on this as well, ever since my dd started school. We have tried other methods, including exclusion diets, that have helped, but now she is approaching puberty she seems to be melting down more again, and reverting to the fragmented state I remember from before.

I have always resisted drugs, partly because my second son, who is severely affected by autism, epilepsy and many other medical issues, was prescribed Ritalin and had a major toxic reaction to it.

But I have read many tales like yours, where the difference, even after a miniscule amount of time, is phenomenal. There is no doubt that these drugs are over prescribed, but for children (and adults!) who genuinely need them - they work. It's not like he's 3 or 4 and you're giving them to him. You've lived with him all his life, love him like no-one else can, and know you have to do your best for him. Maybe it is these drugs. But if it doesn't work out -you've tried.

The first time I had to give my son his anti epileptic medication, I cried for hours. I'd read the leaflet, read the side effects. But it does get easier, and becomes just a way of life.

Mir

Oh, sweetie. I just want to pet your hair and feed you chocolate.

Listen... some of this stuff has to do with neurological maturity. Your Max -- and my own sweet boy -- are neurologically immature compared to their peers. And eventually they'll catch up. And the same way that you'd cast a broken arm to help it heal, or let him use crutches to walk if his leg was broken, you'll use the meds to get him through while his brain catches up.

He will never be exactly like your other boys (and what a shame it would be if he was!), but he will NOT be a gibbering mess of an adult. He'll be your Max, still quirky, but having learned how to cope with and conquer his particular issues.

heidi

I'm so sorry you have to go through this but it does give me hope. My 9.5 y/o has such similar problems and we've been rejecting the idea of medication. My husband refuses to consider it but I'm weakening. Especially when I hear things like this. I'd like to try it. A 2 week trial. I think I may have to bring it up again. The blows to his self-esteem are heartbreaking since his 3 brothers are practically the opposite with concentration. Thank you for writing about this.

Aimee

I hope so much that it is a new beginning.

Cate

Don't cry, Kira. Seriously, I deal with this all day long, and while I agree ADD and ADHD are overdiagnosed (which most of the time can be tracked back to parenting), there is an actual biological disorder. If you had a headache, you'd take something for it. This is no different. Give the meds a chance, be willing to try some adjustments as you go (it isn't an exact science - some kids need different doses or even different meds), but just relax and do what you need to do. It's going to be fine, and you'll be helping your child.

Emily

Medication won't CHANGE Max, he'll still be the same sweet insightfull creative boy he's always been. Medication can help him focus and develop in new ways that you probably can't even imagine at this point. I wish there was one simple answer, but there isn't.

janet

i totally hear you on this one. medication is not the tool of the evil empire, but the means to an end to help a child for whom nothing else has worked.

i have 2 adhd children and an adhd husband. my husband was TAPED TO A DESK in first grade. how much kinder it would have been to give him meds.

my son didn't respond well to meds, but my daughter? she is a different student. after my experiences, i would no more deny my adhd children their medication than i would deny my asthmatic son his inhaler.

chris

I have an ADHD son who is exactly as you describe. Medication has been a miracle for him.

You know it made me feel heaps better when the psychiatrist told me that stimulant medication wouldn't work for people who don't have ADHD. It isn't a sedative. There is this myth in the general population that it calms all kids down and makes them zombies. She also told me that in her practice the younger that children get on medication and learn better skills for dealing their impulsivity the more likely they are to not need medication when they are adults.

jen

I agree with what Chris says above. Meds have helped my son sooo much; we started him when he was 5 1/2 after a year long search for any other answer. The meds have helped him focus and make better decisions, and have helped us have better reactions to him as well. Again, as Chris says, I do believe the earlier the better; it is my deepest prayer that A will be able to get off the meds in a few years, when he has learned more appropriate responses. In the meantime, we just hang on for the ride. He is such a creative and bright child...and more exhausting than words. ; ) Good luck to you!

Allison

I don't have kids of my own, but I have about 100 of them at work - I teach 6th grade writing. I have a few kids who are on medication for ADD, and one who just recently started.

The one who just started....oh, he takes my breath away. He was always a charmer, full of life and energy, but now he can channel that energy into his schoolwork instead of into that poster on the wall, or his classmate's really cool pencil, or a bug he saw when he was walking to school. He went from failing almost everything, because he simply could not get anything done, to all As and Bs.

You can look at him and see him process information now - before, it felt like everything I said simply bounced off an impenetrable shield. Turns out his meds cracked the shield enough for the information to work its way in. And he's still a goofball, still a charmer, but now he's also a student. It will make such a difference in his life.

I can't imagine how hard this must have been for you, how terrifying, but if this does for Max what it did for my charmer, then I think you'll see that it's absolutely worth it.

Amy-Go

Having to be the mom ALL THE TIME sucks, doesn't it? Want a pie? You deserve one!

Laura

There was a time when I was feeling like I would probably have to put my son on meds for ADD and I was really resistant to the idea too. I'd worked in a pharmacy as a tech for ten years and I really felt like Ritalin (the only drug they were really prescribing at the time- they have a lot more options now)had become the first resort of many teachers and parents, instead of the last. I talked with my son's pediatrician and he saw how upset I was and said "In the head of someone with ADD it is like the stereo is blaring, the phone is ringing, the tv is on and someone is at the door. All the time. Could you focus on your work in that environment?" and he said (as other people have here as well) that if he were diabetic would I fight against giving him insulin?

We didn't end up having to go the meds route, but I found so much comfort in what he said- and if we had I think I'd have been okay with it. You are a great and *thoughtful* mom- you aren't doing this lightly and without serious consideration. You are just giving him the quiet that he needs so that he can fulfill all of that potential you see in him.

Katrina Stonoff

My son is like Tre: a kinetic learner, but not ADD. He's in a public school, and we worry about him being labeled ADD.

So we talked to his pediatrician. She assured us he does not have ADD/ADHD and offered to write a note for his school file any time we might need it.

Then she said, "But if he DID have it, the diagnosis would be a relief. And you'd know for sure he had it within hours of his first dose of medication."

I didn't understand her comment until my sister's son was diagnosed. But her story was like yours and Max's. He was out-of-control. She was pulling out her hair in desperation. Then -- a handful of hours after filling the prescription -- he was fine. FINE. Like your Max.

The comforting thought is, though, if that's the experience you have? You don't have to worry anymore about whether he's being drugged for convenience. You know he really does need the medication.

I'm glad you both have some relief.

*hugs*

vkj

Hi Kira- I don't remember where I found your blog but I think you and Clay are awesome parents.

Heather Cook

Kira,

My thoughts and prayers are with you. But also, my hopes and wishes. You know Max better than he knows himself.

Terri

Bless you all.

That's it.

Cleta

I met Dr. Amen at a lecture he gave and then participated in his brain study of injured and uninjured brains. I learned a lot about the damage that can occur even from normal children's bangs to the head - the kind that happen to most kids who engage in sports.

If you are interested in the brain and how it works, I highly recommend reading ""My Stroke of Insight"" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. It's on the NY Times Bestseller list and it's a wonderful book. Dr. Taylor's talk at TED dot com is also AMAZING! Oprah interviewed Dr. Taylor and you can check that out on Oprah.com. And Time Magazine named Dr. T one of the 100 Most Influential people in the world. Having read her book, I can see why all the attention.

Dr. Amen's book is brain science and it's great at that. Dr. Taylor is a Harvard Brain Scientist, but what she writes about is the science and much more. She really cracks the code to understand how our brains (right and left hemispheres) work and she explains how we can get into our right brain and be happier and more joyful. Aside from any of the science, My Stroke of Insight is also just a great story.

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