Disclaimer: This post is not meant as a slight to parents who choose and are successful with a more holistic approach for their child, nor is it meant to imply that medication is the best course of action in every case. I write this post with that mom in mind, who is trying to help her child and feeling guilty at the prospect of medicating. Maybe natural remedies have not worked, or maybe they just don’t fit her season of life. I want to encourage that mom. We are all just doing the best we can to raise happy, loving and responsible adults.
The school year is quickly drawing to a close. At home, we are preparing for end of the year programs, planning summer activities, and wondering how a whole year went by so fast.
For my second child, Faith, this was an especially challenging and rewarding year. She has always been super precocious – my funny, artsy girl – and bright. SO BRIGHT. So, it took us by surprise when we realized that she was falling behind in reading. We got a tutor who worked with her three times a week all summer long, leading up to second grade. So, we were convinced that when she started school, she would be totally caught up, but…
When the kids completed their reading assessment the first week of school, Faith was in the 13th percentile. How was this possible? There were a few things I had noticed about her. I knew that she inverted her letters and numbers more frequently than most kids her age. Her handwriting was definitely on the sloppy side. She struggled immensely learning her spelling each week, and seemed to forget everything the day after the test. Homework took hours.
I felt certain it was dyslexia.
And so, the long and arduous process of having her evaluated began. We completed parent assessments. Visited doctors. Her school had to submit samples of her work, test scores, and teacher observations, and then, there was just a lot of waiting. Waiting for an appointment for her evaluation with the psychologist. Waiting for the results of the testing. It took seven months. Seven months of a ten-month school year.
We called in a specialist in teaching children with dyslexia to help with spelling and reading during those months. Her classroom teacher was so patient and understanding as we worked through this time, but it was still so frustrating. We wanted to work on reading, because her spelling would inevitably improve as her reading improved, but every week, she had a spelling test bearing down on her. So, she HAD to learn the spelling words first, and it seemed that every week the entirety of the specialist’s time was spent teaching the spelling words, so we would barely get to scratch the surface on reading, and then the words would not even be retained a week later. It felt like we were paying $100 a week just to pass a spelling test.
After seven months on the spelling test hamster wheel, the results of her evaluation were finally in. They were normal. In EVERY area. And not just borderline normal, either. Solidly in the normal range. I was flabbergasted. Happy, of course, but baffled, because there was nothing normal about the amount of time and effort Faith was putting in just to pass second grade.
“This is just my opinion,” she began, “and mind you I’m not a doctor and I can’t give a diagnosis,” she continued, “but based on my experience with children, I think Faith has severe ADHD.”
I Wasn’t Even Sure I Believed in ADHD
I remember telling my hubby one afternoon while taking two hours to complete 20 minutes worth of homework, “I don’t know if ADHD is real, but if it is, Faith has it!”
But in actuality, I thought of ADHD as synonymous with misbehavior, or perhaps the result of kids spending too much time watching TV or playing video games. I couldn’t believe that ADHD alone could affect a child to the degree that they couldn’t learn. Maybe it was just adults expecting kids to do things that kids were never meant to do. We all have different personalities after all. In any case, it was something that was not a medical condition and, therefore, should not be treated medically.
I Felt That “ADHD” Should be Managed, Not Treated
So then, if it wasn’t a medical condition, it’s the environment that should be altered. Not the child. We would pay more attention to her diet and increase her physical activity during off-school hours. But we had already been doing those things for a long time, and there really hadn’t been any change, and she wasn’t a difficult child. She has always been very loving and desiring to obey and do right things. Rebelliousness is not really a part of her nature, she just seemed to lack impulse-control at times.
There were other things I disliked about medication. She was only seven. What are the effects of these drugs on a developing body and brain? What are the long-term effects? And there was the fact that I never knew a child who was on medication, and liked it. They all said it made them feel sedated or not themselves.
So, if she couldn’t be successful in traditional school, maybe the answer was to homeschool her.
How About Homeschooling?
I’m not opposed to homeschooling. Many of my friends homeschool and are GREAT at it, but I really don’t think I am a homeschool mom. Part of me desperately wants to be that sort of mom, but I don’t believe it is in my particular gifting, and after our marathon homework experiences, which included extreme frustration on both sides, I worried about how the parent/child dynamic would be affected by me being her teacher as well.
But the fact is, in spite of all my misgivings, I would have done it anyway. If I had mentioned homeschooling and she had jumped at the chance, I would have done it. Whatever it took. She’s my kid.
I’d do pretty much anything for her.
But, when I mentioned homeschooling in passing one day, I watched tears well up in my little one’s face. “But I LOVE my school!” she cried, “I want to stay at my school!”
In Her Shoes
This girl worked so hard this year, and she was willing to keep working at this level, just to stay with the friends and teachers she adored. I told the psychologist my concerns about how every child I knew hated taking their medication, and how I had never heard a child say how much it helped them.
“I can only imagine,” she said, “what it must feel like to be Faith at school – to have everyone asking you to sit still and pay attention all the time when you can’t, and to be working so hard and still be falling behind the other kids.”
I had to admit that I was worried that she would start to believe that she wasn’t intelligent if she continued on in a traditional school setting, and it did sound like torture to be told to sit still and focus all day if you constantly felt the need to move. I thought about how I feel when I have one too many cups of coffee and cross the caffeine threshold where I can no longer sit still until it wears off. What if that was her experience everyday?
“You don’t know how the medication will affect her,” continued the psychologist, “You can just try it. There is no rule that you have to continue.”
Why I Ultimately Swallowed the Pill
She was right. I didn’t know how Faith would respond to the medication or what her experience would be unless I tried it. So I made an appointment with her doctor and two days later she was on a low dose of Adderall. Four days later, the school completed the 4th quarter reading assessment. Her scores for all three prior quarters had placed her in the 13th-17th percentile. After just four days on medication, she tested in the 55th percentile. Normal range.
It took a couple of weeks to get her dosage just right, but within the first week of doing so, nearly every one of her teachers had contacted me personally to let me know how engaged Faith had been in class and how amazing she was doing.
The changes I saw were in her were subtle, but significant. She didn’t seem like a different child by any means, but she was noticeably less forgetful. She started completing her homework assignments independently, and her handwriting improved. Even her artsy and creative side, which I worried would suffer, seemed to be enhanced, as her art projects seemed more complete and thought out.
If anything, she seemed more herself than she had ever been.
I saw her confidence grow.
One day, as a test, I asked her, “Do you feel any different than you did before you started taking the medication?” She thought about it, “Well, feel like I can read now. It’s good reading medicine.”
That’s all I need to hear.