Monday, September 15, 2008

ADHD and me

Over at Starry Sky Ranch, Kim has posted links to Newsweek articles on boys and school performances. They are not articles on ADHD, per se, but in the way my brain trips along, reading the articles led me to these thoughts about our own issues of educating boys....

---ADHD is a big part of my life. My brother, Kain's father, has it.

---Kain has it.

---My husband has it. Had it before it was even a diagnosis, even. He's 44yo, so ADHD wasn't even coined yet I don't think, but his mother showed me reports where a psychologist had diagnosed him as "retarded" when he was a preschooler. My husband is very bright, so I found this quite funny. Quirky, but bright. His poor mother, being told this about her son....

---The articles were interesting, and I think dead on, so I'm not picking on these articles necessarily. But, there is a kind of mindset out there in the world that says, "ADHD doesn't really exist. These are just normal, active kids that no one wants to deal with. The schools just want to drug them up so they will sit in a desk for 7 hours a day. The parents just don't want to be bothered with them and want them medicated into submission." Or, "These kids are really just brats that need a good spanking." That's not really fair because...

---ADHD is REAL. They have documented fundamental differences in the brains of these kids. It is SO real. Plus, anyone that thinks these are just "active kids" hasn't spent enough time with someone who really has it. You are welcome to remedy that situation by spending the day with Kain at any time. Frankly, I'd enjoy the day off.

---Is it overdiagnosed? Quite certainly.

---Is medication even necessary for all kids that really do have it? No. (breaking out my nurses hat here) Medications, all medications, have potential risks and side effects. Taking any medication means that (ideally) you are weighing the potential risks against the potential benefits. ADHD meds definitely have real risks. They can also have a lot of benefit. Whether the risks are worth taking is up to the parents of that individual child. Homeschoolers, especially, often decide not to medicate because they are able to tailor their child's education to that child's abilities and needs. They can play with legos while you read their history to them, they can fall out of their chair and roll around on the floor while you are drilling math facts without getting in (too much) trouble. The argument has been made that "sooner or later, though, they will need to learn how to sit in a desk and get some work done because they need to grow up to be Real Adults". This argument is, well, sorry, kinda stupid really, because

1. Lots of adults don't have desk jobs. I have never had a desk job, and neither has my husband. And, while I have no statistics, I'm willing to bet that adults with ADHD are especially not drawn to desk jobs.

2. As these kids grow up, the symptoms change anyway. In other words, ADHD kids don't grow up to be adults that spontaneously fall out of chairs and roll around on the floor. In fact, I have actually never seen my husband do this, now that I think about it, and I haven't seen my brother do it for a good many years either.

---Homeschooling also works for ADHD kids because these kids need a *lot* of social coaching. Kain has the social skills of a preschooler. It is rather sad to watch him in a group of "normal" kids, because he doesn't fit in. This gets worse as he gets older...the gap is more obvious. He has great difficulty making friends because he is so very odd. Soon after he came to live with us, we were in a doctor's waiting room and a child around his age came over to engage Kain in play. Kain responded by collapsing to the floor and rolling around the room. When the child persisted in trying to talk to him, he rolled under the chairs in a ball and refused to come out until the child left him alone. He was 7 at the time. Homeschooling just gives us more opportunities to teach him social skills, and less opportunities for him to learn social skills from a bunch of other 8 year olds.

---Sometimes, medication is a good option. Kain is on two medications. I'm not thrilled about it. But the medications don't "sedate" him. They just calm him a bit. His symptoms, without medication, are quite severe we thought he was actually autistic when he was a preschooler. He cannot function, socially, at all without the medications. This will probably change as he gets older, but for right now, there it is. I distinctly remember taking him to the open house at his old school before he started kindergarten. He was 6 1/2 at the time, and this was before medication was started. We were in the school for about 15 minutes. It was a stimulating 15 minutes,,,,new place, lots of people...he couldn't handle it. He would literally fall on the floor and roll around as we were walking down the very crowded hallway. When we got to his classroom, he started headbutting the walls. I couldn't even get him to stand next to me and be introduced to his new teacher, though I did rather get a kick out of the look of panic on her face as she observed his behavior. Medication has allowed him to do things that he would never otherwise be able to handle, like being on a soccer team and, eventually, making some friends in our homeschool groups. My point is, please don't judge those that decide medications are worth taking. There's a wide range of behaviors and severity of symptoms with ADHD. And believe me, even with the medication we still have plenty of issues to deal with. His hyperactive behavior is actually the least of my issues. The impulsivity and lack of self-control are far pressing ones. Medication does help some with these issues too, but he still has a *lot* of behavior problems to deal with.

---I still don't like the medications. I feel a little queeze in my stomach every day when I give them to him. I've looked into many alternatives. Some I've tried and they were ineffective. Some were of dubious repute and cost a lot of money to pursue, money that would be worth spending if I had it, but I don't. A few weeks ago I ordered a packet for the Feingold diet and after 10 minutes of looking through it I was so overwhelmed that I shelved it. I am planning to read through it more thoroughly and give it a try. For one thing, I spent $100 that I couldn't afford on it, so I feel obligated to at least try it. I am of two minds about it.

- When we try it, I want to *really* try it, go whole hog and give it an honest shot. Because I did spend $100. And because if it doesn't work for us, I want to honestly know that it really didn't work.

- But I don't think it will work. It'd be nice if this were the "big fix". Because medications, even though they help, still leave us a lot to handle. And medications don't last 24 hours a day. He wakes up unmedicated and they take a good hour to start working, and they wear off around 6 in the evening making dinner and bedtime very difficult and evening activities pretty much out of the question.

- But I'm a little afraid that it will work. Then I have to make some judgements. Does it work as well as the meds? If it does, it'll be worth doing. If it doesn't, does it work well enough to justify going off the meds and following full time? Or would the smaller improvement not be worth the trouble of the diet? And it will be a lot of trouble. Some of his favorite foods are restricted on this diet, and he is a very picky eater. He also does not take limits well, and the diet will open up a whole new battleground.

-Also, I don't want to follow a diet. If I was good at following a diet, I'd be much thinner. I don't want to learn to buy new products, cook different foods, and take on this big change when I have so much on my plate ( And then I feel selfish for not being willing to make this sacrifice if needed.

-But there it is, I'm selfish. Big shock. Part of me feels like, "You know, I really feel like I've done enough, I've made enough sacrifices for someone else's child here, because this child and his behavior problems affect every day, every outing, every meal, every bedtime, and has made so little of my daily life truly enjoyable and peaceful over the last two years, and if giving him medications makes my life a little easier then so be it."

-And then I feel guilty because of all of that selfish and non-constructive blah. Because it isn't constructive. Because Kain's mother hasn't been seen or heard from in ages, and Kain's father hasn't even bothered to pick up the phone in a month now and is obviously never going to give up his "perpetual teenager" lifestyle to raise his son, so we are in this for the long haul, like it or not, and feeling all negative and put-upon every evening after his usual tumultuous bedtime routine that turns me into a crying wreck at the end of the day because I want my old life back (his medications wear off in the evening, remember?) is not helpful. It's quite a cycle.

- And a stupid cycle. Because, for better or worse, he is no longer really "someone else's child", he's ours, and helping him helps us all. And because someone needs to take true emotional ownership of this child and his problems, someone needs to have a vested interest in what is truly best for him, and while we didn't exactly sign up for this voluntarily, even though our original hope was to provide a temporary home for him, this is where we are at...he is ours, the only alternative, really and truly, is putting him in foster care. And while some days that feels like a really attractive option, in the end I just can't do that.

---So, thank you for allowing me to unload this random stream of thoughts. It does help just to purge my brain once in a while. And now I'm off. Because while I've been on here, Kain has been prancing incessantly around my chair hounding me about a hundred different pressing matters, like "where is my computer game even though I'm not allowed to play computer on weekdays but I'm obsessed with it and have to carry it around everywhere I go" and "what are we having for lunch? for snack? for dinner? because I also obsess about food and have to know exactly what is coming up, for every meal, for every thing, every day for the rest of my life?" "Can I please please please please look again at the costume you said you would order online for Halloween for the 347th time in three days?" Actually, all these questions have just been in the last couple of minutes,,,because his brain whirls around as fast as his body.


Charlotte said...

Love and prayers for you Melanie.

Marcia said...

Don't be apprehensive about trying the Feingold diet. It may seem overwhelming at first but once you get into it, it's quite easy--especially if you are member of the organization. Their website has an awesome message board.

You also don't have to change your family's meals or do a lot of cooking. You just buy a different brand--one that doesn't have the additives. The foodlist of the org. tells you exactly what you buy. And, any preparation is sooo much better than the child's former behavior!

Best wishes to you.

Samantha said...

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Jane said...

I'm a pretty lazy cook so what I like about using diet for ADHD is that all I have to pay attention to is which brand name food goes into my shopping cart. Then when I get home, I prepare whatever we have in the house. Once I have bought a particular brand, it's easy to remember and buy it again.
I recently added the DiGiorno frozen cheese pizza to our list of favorites. So far it's not officially on the list of Feingold-acceptable products, but once we got established on the diet, we found we could loosen up and buy foods that have "clean" looking labels. Oh yes, I found that it's much less $$ at Target! I just add a few of our favorite toppings to the cheese pizza, or we eat it as it. Mmmm. More info can be found at