I’ve had a couple of conversations this week on the topic of AD/HD and it’s resurfaced some memories and feelings for me. It’s also shown me the power and support that comes when we are willing to share our experiences with others. So I wanted to take a moment to share some of my thoughts and experiences with medication related to the condition because it’s definitely a hot topic out there. To get there, I have to share some history or what I have to share won’t mean much.
I’ve already admitted that if you’d talked to me about attention deficit issues 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have recognized me. Back then I would have quickly shared my highly opinionated views that it was a bunch of hogwash – an exaggerated topic that gave easy excuse for both lessened responsibility and money making – don’t even get me started on the medication issues. It’s funny that I had such tight opinions about it considering that I had no personal experience it and never researched it. All of my assumptions and opinions were based on tidbits and hearsay.
But I watched over the years as the condition gained more publicity/visibility. It seemed that more and more kids were being diagnosed with it. I heard it everywhere. I even knew the name of the most common drug Ritalin because mention of AD always included this name and all the side affects of medications. From the news clips and headlines it was clearly as evil as Prozac. For a long while this just fed my theory that it was a money making tactic for professionals and the “out” that most lazy parents today were searching for. After all, what better excuse for your kid being out of control than a diagnosable condition, and clearly that’s what AD/HD was – an out of control child right? In recent years the phenomenon sparked new curiosity. I wondered why it was growing so much. Was it the influence of video games, television and computer activities or was it possibly related to diet and the changing foods of our day? Whatever it was, it was clearly out of control and I met the words with eye rolls and disdain.
Then I had kids and my slumber of ignorance began to creep to a halt. I watched my daughter’s exuberance and constant energy with watchful eye. I knew that hands down she could easily be diagnosed with AD by those around her. She bounced from thing to thing, functioned like the energizer bunny and was so social she made me look withdrawn…and that’s saying something! But during all this I was still convinced that parenting involvement, styles, nurturing and environment were all that were needed. I was still convinced that AD was more a state of mind by society than a real condition and I was not about to succumb to the masses. Besides that, the chips were already against her because she was adopted and that by itself was a general label for everything that might be wrong or different for her. I absolutely cringed when I heard or read about how much more susceptible adopted kids are to about every problem under the sun. It was a big an excuse tactic as labeling a kid AD/HD and I had zero tolerance for it. I knew I had a battle ahead of me but I was confident that I could handle it with the right attitude and perspective. Then my daughter hit the public school system and everything went upside down.
When we began the search for answers that involved a staff of doctors and medical professionals, I made it clear that we were extremely averse to medications. After meeting with our daughter one doctor said something I couldn’t shake. She acknowledge our concerns about medication but explained that if she has never experienced focus she has no reference for it and no matter how much the rest of us do to help her find it we’re starting with the cards stacked against us. It made sense. She suggested that we consider medication temporarily for the purpose of letting our daughter experience what we were all striving to help her achieve. I warmed considerably to the idea of medication being temporary.
In the next couple weeks I began to see AD/HD through new eyes. I learned that the reason it had gotten such attention in recent years was because a medical team doing research was able to utilize new technology like MRIs to show brain activity/stimulation. The findings proved that brains with AD/HD were very different from those we’d label as normal. There was considerably less stimulation and overall activity taking place. There was now proof that this condition was indeed some form of disorder, not just a behavior issue. Further, when the right medications were implemented pathways were opened and the brain was able to function like others receiving and sending more information, making the right connections and allowing information to flow freely. It was explained that the condition results in kids learning coping mechanisms early in life to compensate for what they are experiencing. In short, this is their ability to shift their attention consistently and for some the reason that behavior issues become prevalent. It was noted that the greatest misconception is that because these kids can stick to some tasks that they want like video games, etc. that if they simply tried harder they could do it. The comparison was made that it was the same as telling a person with a sight disorder that they could focus without glasses or contacts if they simply tried harder. The more I read, the more sense it made.
Bear in mind, all of this is my own understanding and conclusions. I share it freely because it’s been quite a journey for me across the spectrum. My concerns for medication use were fueled by information found on the Internet. It seemed everyone had a horror story to share as well as a personal book on diet, etc. that if you’d buy would unlock all the answers for you. Personally, this just infuriated me more. If what you have to share is so monumental just share it don’t try to make money off it. At any rate, I read so much about depression in teen and adult years, stunted growth, loss of appetite, etc. related to medication that I was quite leery of it. Besides that, I’d had personal experience with steroid medication as a necessity for me several years ago and I know how long it took for my body to fully recover from it long after it hadn’t been taken anymore. I wasn’t going into this with my eyes closed. I’d learned there were two types of medications available, stimulant and non-stimulant. The PA had already told me that if medication was necessary she’d recommend starting with stimulant because it was immediate and worked out of the system the same day it was taken so you could control the dosage like not taking it on weekends, etc. I felt a new wave of relief and support when her doctor shared personal insights on the topic. Not only as a doctor but as a father whose daughter was ADD and had been on medication for several years. He told me not to fear it and if/when I was ready to learn more about the non-stimulant meds to let him know as that’s what his daughter was now on. I took a deep breath about the whole thing.
I looked at medication now as my daughter’s school glasses for her brain. We agreed to give it a try. It took two rounds to find the right prescription for her starting point but when it was found a whole new world opened for us all. She got her first glowing report from school and found new confidence her abilities. Within two weeks she had formed new study habits that included doing her homework on her own. Other problems were more accurately identified with the ADD addressed and specific solutions were found for those.
She started on Adderall at 15 mg (For reference it starts at 5 and goes to 30 mg I believe.) By her next doctor visit she was doing so well and had experienced 4-5 days without her medication when no one noticed and I was the only one who knew/remembered we’d forgotten it. We dropped it down to 10 mg. To date, there has been no noted change in her from her teacher and I can see how the next step down is more than possible it is likely. What is amazing to me is how it has provided her with the ability to compensate with good habits and experience and she’s doing that. I suspect that by year’s end we may not need medication at all and next year we might have to begin the year with some “glasses” at the start of the year until she gets into the swing of things again, but I think it will continue to diminish in need as she grows and develops those positive compensation habits and processes.
The key to success (and for argument’s sake) in my opinion, is parental involvement and attitude. If you view medication as a cure or solution by itself the outcome will be disappointing at best. Incidentally, doctors and medical professionals are not the ones that portray this opinion – quite the opposite as they advocate and push the multi-step approach to treatment of AD/HD. In fact, I’ve never received a refill, each time it requires visits and involvement with her doctor so they can keep close tabs on it. I will be the first to admit how easy it would be to keep my daughter on medication when she’s not in school. It’s very pleasant to be around her when she’s on it. But it is precisely the balance of only using it for school and not for weekends, time off and vacations that allows all of us to help develop the needed skills to compensate and overpower the condition.
I struggle to call ADD a disorder. Obviously we have identified that the ADD brain functions differently but who are we to determine what is order and what is not especially in the brain. Just because their brains work differently, because they learn differently, doesn’t make it wrong. Maybe they’re the real geniuses and just merely outnumbered. Maybe if they had gotten to the diagnosis table first they’d have dubbed non ADD brains as the ones with a disorder or somehow lacking. I just don’t think we know enough about the brain to make these assumptions. My daughter doesn’t display her knowledge the same way most of us do. It’s why her test scores are often so low because they try to force her to display her knowledge and comprehension in a specific way. But it’s not because she doesn’t understand. In fact, sometimes her level of perception and understanding make my head spin. I wonder what the world will become to her when she is able to gain what we dub the fundamentals of learning because she’s the one who finally found a way to adapt to our style of teaching them. When that playing field is leveled I have a feeling we’d all better watch out. *wink*
At the end of the day I guess you could say I’ve done a 180 on my views of AD/HD as well as the resources available to help deal with it. I’m so grateful that I didn’t close my eyes when my daughter needed me. I’m grateful that because I was willing to learn more and research options that she’s benefited from early intervention. I’m grateful that there are so many great and wonderful people and resources out there to help anyone who has AD/HD or has a child with it succeed. You’re not alone, you’re not without resources and you can succeed.