I have to rant because I have seen yet another article about how ADHD isn’t a real thing. That it’s due to how people don’t really raise their kids anymore, how an ass beating will cure it, so on and so forth.
Let me tell you, if an ass beating woulda cured Matt of ADHD. . . Well. I tried that. It didn’t work.
Let me tell you how I tried everything in my power to not put my son on medication.
It started with what seemed to be a kid being a kid, experimenting with cause and effect and learning consequences. Up until about age 4 Matt had been stellar. Always took me at my word, (“Don’t touch the stove kiddo, it’s hot.” “Okay, Mommy!”) rarely acting out, hitting every milestone before he should have. I had started skipping ahead while reading the What to Expect books because he wasn’t consistent with his age, more so 6 months and then even progressing to a year ahead of what the ‘experts’ expected. He knew sign language, his entire alphabet, could count well past 100, shapes and colors and was even beginning addition work. The child was a mothers dream.
Until I picked him up from daycare one day, and to my dismay the head administrator pulled me aside.
“I’m not sure what got into Matthew today, but he tripped one of our friends.”
“I’m sorry. . . My Matthew? Are you sure it wasn’t an accident?” I asked, shocked.
“No. . . It was very much deliberate. One of the babies was practicing learning to walk and Matthew very blatantly stuck his leg out and tripped him. And then laughed hysterically.”
I was fuming. I’m not the “not my kid” mom, and since Matt rarely got into trouble I had every reason to believe the woman. He was well loved there and I couldn’t fathom someone making something up like that.
I took Matt home, deliberating as I drove how to handle the situation. I had never had to seriously reprimand my child, so I was at a loss.
I called my dad as I made dinner.
I explained the situation to him, and after a pause he gave me my solution.
“Well, how did you teach him not to bite you?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“All kids try to bite. How did you teach him not to bite?”
“Well. . . I bit him back.” And truthfully I did – not hard enough to leave a mark, but enough to show him the shit hurts, and it taught him not to bite.
“Soooo. . . You’re telling me to trip my kid. . .?”
“Show him how it feels.” Just then the macaroni began to boil over so I jumped off the phone and contemplated dads advice while I finished up dinner.
Finally I stopped battling with my conscious. My goal wasn’t to hurt my kid, but show him some damn empathy. Dad had a good theory there.
So, I called Matt into the dining room and asked him about his day. And as he excitedly told me about an activity he did in class, I firmly but gently shoved my kid to the carpeted floor.
The look on his face broke my heart a little. Confusion, hurt feelings. . . Tears welled in his eyes and his mouth dropped open in shock. The one person he loved and trusted had just for no apparent reason knocked him to the floor. I knealt down to his level.
“Mrs. C told me how you tripped that baby, Matthew.” He looked at me, now with understanding in his teary eyes. “How do you think that baby felt? Did he cry?”
“And you laughed at him, didn’t you.” An emphatic nod. “It doesn’t make you feel good when someone knocks you down, does it?”
“No. . .”
I helped him to his feet, and explained to him that he should always think through things he wants to do – if he wouldn’t want someone to do it to him, then he shouldn’t do it. I thought it was a life lesson, that he was just exploring cause and effect. I never thought that this one lesson to a four year old would stick with him for life, but I also thought that it was a good start.
I also didn’t know this was the beginning of a year and a half of hell.
Because after that, he was cool for a couple weeks – no more bad reports, back to being his normal self. But then shit hit the fan, and hard.
He was saying mean things, not minding teachers, leaving the classroom and leading the teachers on a chase through the facility. . . I met with the administrator regularly, tried to work on a behavior plan with her for him. Nothing worked. I punished him at home, trying everything I knew. Spanking and time outs and putting him to bed earlier. I took television privileges and treats and toys away. The daycare brought in a behavioral professional to observe Matt and try to give us an idea how to curb him. And do you know that smart little shit saw a stranger in his classroom and made sure to be on his best behavior?
At a loss, the administrator recommended I take Matt to a different daycare that may be better able to “care” for him.
I was in shock. I knew that while she had said it in the kindest way possible, my son was being kicked out of the daycare.
But I also knew that they weren’t wrong in that something wasn’t right with my child. He had changed at home, too. Once a loving little boy who would cuddle up with his momma and watch cartoons, grabbing my face and kissing every point of it and telling me he loved me, these things had stopped. He was constantly telling me I was a mean mommy and he hated me. He squirmed out of hugs and looked at me with anger all over his face, regardless if he was in trouble during that particular moment or not. I knew some of it stemmed from me constantly having to reprimand him, but I also knew I wasn’t wrong in trying to teach him to behave. I missed my sweet little boy to my very core. This wasn’t my Matthew. This was a devil child who climbed walls and threw toys at me. This was a disturbed little boy who when in trouble would hit himself or bang his head on walls until I restrained him. I knew I wasn’t a perfect mother. But I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.
I sought out another daycare, and the one I found had cameras through out, and a secure website where I could watch from work. At this point I still thought I could fix him myself. Maybe the change in environment would help. I gave him some time to adjust to the new center, but soon I saw he was getting worse, not better. I watched from work while Matt climbed stacks of cots and folded his arms over his chest and yelled at teachers. A couple times they called me to go and talk him out of rooms he had gone into and locked himself in, and I would stand outside and talk him out like a cop in a hostage situation. And it felt like that was the perfect example of our lives. It felt like something had taken my little boy hostage and I was trying to talk it into letting him go. I finally gave into my gut instinct and made an appointment with his pediatrician.
Before the appointment could occur however, I got a call from the daycare one afternoon asking me to come and get Matt.
He had attempted to stab a little boy with his pencil.
They presented me with a letter expelling matt from the daycare, stating he was a danger to other children.
I took my sons hand and walked him out of the center, and I cried all the way home.
I thought I knew what it meant when people said parenting was hard. The lack of sleep and always having to clean something and cook meals and care for another human is hard work.
But this was beyond hard. This was heartbreak. How could it be that this little person who I loved with every ounce of my being could cause someone else physical harm, with no display of remorse? And I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t throw a bandaid on it, or give him a hug and take it away.
I took everything to the pediatrician and he referred us to a psychologist.
I had previously utilized another daycare when I was working two jobs that was open 24 hours. Matt only went there on Saturdays, and had enjoyed it. I called and requested a meeting with the administrator who had loved matt, and during the meeting I explained what we were dealing with.
“He’s been essentially kicked out of two daycares, ma’am. He’s troubled. He is seeing a doctor and we’re working on a solution, but I have to work to keep our medical insurance. I need to know that in six months you aren’t going to kick him out. I need to know that you’ll work with me, and him, while we figure this out.”
That woman hugged me. And I fought tears while she looked me square in the eyes and promised me that she was going to help me. “Miss Amber, I’m going to be tough on him. I’m not going to let him walk all over us or be mean to the kids. But I’m not going to give up on that boy, either. He needs tough love and we can do that here.”
So he was enrolled into his third daycare of the year. We visited the psychologist weekly who had me trying diet changes and a more rigid schedule than what I already had in place. And Matthew continued to be a problem. As promised the daycare staff worked with us, giving me daily behavior reports to give to his doctor. They did in center suspensions when he got too out of control – one time he threw red paint on a little girl. Another he attempted to steal a toy, yet another he chucked his shoe at a teacher. They did suspend him one time for the use of racial slurs that he had picked up from a family member. I thought I knew embarrassment until the day his African American teacher stood in front of me and explained in detail what my five year old had shouted to his predominantly African American class. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. I wasn’t raised to he racist, but Matthew had heard someone else using the term and in a fit of rage over being punished for something else he used it himself. I gave him a very graphic history lesson on our way home that day. That was the first time I emptied his room of everything but his books, clothes and bed. I was mean Mommy. I didn’t love him he proclaimed loudly from behind his closed door, which I stood holding shut so he couldn’t come out. He cried himself to sleep in front of the door and I gently pushed the door open, holding my breath, praying I wouldn’t wake him as the door pushed against him. I picked him up and pushed his sweat covered hair away from his forehead and cried silently for my little boy. “Please God, make him better.” I prayed. “God, Buddha, Allah, someone, something . . . PLEASE. Please. Make my boy better.” I covered him up after laying him in his bed and tiptoed from the room.
I took it all to the psychologist, who told me he was likely bipolar but too young to diagnose. I did my own research, and not agreeing with her findings I requested a second opinion. In the meantime Matthew started kindergarten, testing above average and was separated for a couple hours a day to work with a group of students who were more at his learning level. But he finished his work before them and crawled under the desks, and otherwise disturbed his peers. The second opinion doctor couldn’t see him until November, and when Matt got suspended from kindergarten for starting a food fight and leading the principal on a wild goose chase around the lunchroom, I was told he may be kicked out of his special classes if his behavior didn’t improve.
I was desperate at this point. I had been continuing my research into child behavior and found that he showed signs of ADHD/ADD and there were a couple others that seemed to ring true as well – but I didn’t have a PhD. I took tips from my findings while we waited for his new doctor to see him. I learned ways to help him focus on me when he was wild – “Quiet, Matthew. Look at Momma’s nose.” And he would often stop the crazy and focus for a moment to listen. When he seemed overwhelmed I would take him into a dark room and hold him until he settled down. I was looking at sensory disorders because these things worked. But not consistently. I counted down the days. I discussed medication with Dad, who was violently opposed to it. “They wanted me to put your brother on medication,” he reminded me. “And Aaron was fine without it.” Out of respect I held my tongue. What Matt had going on was nothing compared to my brothers gentle autism. I was at my breaking point. I couldn’t continue with the often violent force that was my five year old son. And I couldn’t let whatever was wrong with him prevent him from learning, rob him of the opportunity to learn and be amazing. He was so smart. But with what was going on he would never be able to focus and take part in advanced classes if we couldn’t figure it out.
Finally the day came, and we drove across town to meet with the new doctor. We had been sent a behavior questionnaire to be filled out by both me and his father, as well as his teachers. I gave the doctor the questionnaires, and he got out his own to fill out while he observed my son. He put Matthew in a seperate room with a two way mirror and walked out to sit next to me. We watched as Matt bounced from one activity to another, never settling on one more than 60 seconds. He built a partial house with Lincoln Logs and then was with the play doh making pizza. Then the helicopter crashing it into dinosaurs, exclaiming over volcanoes and lava eruptions. “I can see he is very bright,” the doctor told me. “But do you see how his focus shifts so quickly?” I agreed. “I’m going to go over all of this and send my recommendations to his pediatrician. You should have a care plan very soon.”
A care plan. Praise Jesus. We were almost there.
As we drove home a man dressed as Santa drove beside us in a beat up truck, and for a second Matt was an innocent five year old, exclaiming over seeing Santa, asking where his reindeer were, etc. I smiled and told him Santa saves his reindeer for Christmas and tired, he fell asleep in the back seat. I cried seeing his innocent face in my rearview mirror. I wanted that innocent little boy back so bad. I was so tired from the last 18 months and I was relieved that a solution may be near.
The results came back and his pediatrician called us to his office. I sat nervously in the exam room as Matt climbed the furniture. Dr. G came in and sat beside me. He patted my knee and looked at me kindly. “We’re going to fix him, Mom.” Tears welled in my eyes and he squeezed my shoulder. He got up and approached Matthew, asking him about school and home life.
“Matthew has ADHD, and he also has a little bit of ODD, which is Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Are you familiar with either of those?” I explained I had done some research but was only vaguely familiar with ODD. “Basically, he doesn’t do well with authority. He is defiant to anyone who he perceives to be in an authoritarian position.” Being five, I guessed that was pretty much any and all adults. “Now, we don’t have to treat the ODD persay. With the treatment of the ADHD the ODD will correct itself.” He then presented me with his recommendation of a medication. “It has the least amount of side effects, and has a very manageable dosage breakdown and it’s time released, so it won’t put it all into his system at once. I’m going to start him out on the lowest dose. You let me know how that seems to be working. If we need to increase the milgrams we can. If not, he will have a checkup in six months so we can see how he’s doing.”
All of my questions and concerns knocked out, just like that. I was worried about Matt becoming a zombie, about the suicidal thoughts and self harm issues with medications. About the trouble shooting of the right dosage and medication. Dr. G nailed it all down for me, having dealt with us for so long and knowing his patient.
Dad was upset with me for the first time in a long time. “Do you really think that’s the best decision? Drugging your child?”
“Worst case scenario, I’m wrong. And I’ll take him off the medication if that’s the case. But I’ve tried everything else. I have to try this, too.”
I carefully watched my son in the following weeks. No signs of lethargy, and as he had already been engaging in self harm by hitting himself when frustrated, I watched for this to worsen. Instead I was met with a calmer Matthew, more apt to listen the first time, less likely to fly off the handle. The bad reports trickled to a stop. His teacher stopped emailing me. He stopped fighting my every word. The ODD did in fact disappear, and I watched as my Matthew blossomed. He still needed a little help from me – there were occasional outbursts and trouble focusing. But I didn’t want to up the medication dosage because the Matthew I was now dealing with was managble. He seemed very close to the same level as his peers attitude and behavior wise, and I didn’t want to go overboard. So I taught him focusing techniques and helped him to curb his impulsive tendencies.
It took several years but finally Dad apologized to me for being so harsh. “I thought you were making a mistake in medicating Matthew,” he told me one evening a few months before he passed. “But you have an amazing child there, and he wouldn’t be that if you had listened to me. I’m glad you followed your gut.”
My presidential award winning son could have ended up so much different. One of the “bad kids” who is always in the office, known by the principal for that instead of for being so smart. Where do you think Matt would be if I had just “beat his ass”?
Tell me again how it’s the lack of structure and punishment. Tell me again that it was his diet. Tell me again how I’m a bad parent. Because my son needed a little extra help in focusing his energy? Because I wanted to keep him from fighting anything that breathed? Because I tried everything in my power to correct the issue before resorting to medication? I have a few words for you and please don’t think its “Thank-you for your opinion.”
I realize that there are people who don’t exhaust every option before turning to meds. I realize that ADHD is likely highly over diagnosed. But before you group them all together – DON’T. Because not every parent is negligent and lazy, and some kids have a legitimate issue.
Matt still struggles with some impulsive behavior. He’s forgetful and often struggles following instructions. He’s been known to be mouthy with no remorse. But I can parent these things.
He is no longer violent or out of control. He is excelling in school and remains in advanced classes. And for the first time this year, his doctor and I discussed the possibility of Matthew being taken off the medication. We tried after his last med checkup and his grades plummeted. But it’s close. I can see it and my gut is saying “almost there.”
It wasn’t my favorite choice to make, medicating my child. But I’m glad I did.
When I tell you that my Matthew and I have been through hell and back, now you know exactly what I mean by that statement. Now you know why I have the upmost faith in my child. And maybe now you have a better understanding of what a parent of a child with a behavior disorder has really gone through. Maybe now you won’t be so quick to judge a book by its cover.