I have been debating writing this post for a while. A part of me feels it’s not my story to tell and another part of me wants to protect my son. Janice over at 5 Minutes For Mom gave me the courage to finally post it. She shared her son’s story in hopes it will help others. I can’t argue with that logic and maybe our story will also help someone, so here goes…
For years my son has been getting in to trouble at school. For years I’ve been wondering “does he need help?” and “does he have ADHD?” From as early as I can remember my mom and I wondered at whether or not he might have ADHD. Once he started kindergarten I started to wonder aloud to other people; his teacher, the school social worker, etc… I was told he was different but that he didn’t have ADHD, he was “gifted” and “gifted” kids present a challenge all their own and often their behavior is similar to kids with ADHD. I clung to that as if my life depended on it. I didn’t want my son labeled at all but somehow being labeled as “gifted” didn’t seem as bad as being labeled with “ADHD” something that I knew would follow him forever. Not that the “gifted” label wouldn’t but it’s so different.
For the next several years I would continue to wonder to myself and I would continue to deny, deny, deny. When I look back I am ashamed. I feel this is my biggest failure as a mother so far. Living in denial cost him several years, years I can’t give back no matter how much I want to now.
The teachers would call, sometimes daily. “Please help us, he won’t sit still, he talks incessantly, he is so unfocused on his tasks, it’s like pulling teeth to get him to sit still and behave once he finishes an assignment” I would communicate this to Joe and wonder “what are we supposed to do to control his behavior in school??” The social worker and teachers would continue to tell me he was simply “gifted”. Gifted kids get bored. They finish their assignments before the other kids and then they are bored. The only way to control that behavior is to constantly keep them busy with one task or another. From kindergarten to third grade he would have but two teachers who managed to “keep him busy”. They would give him extra worksheets, errands, etc… He would struggle socially. He was disruptive, he talked too much, the teachers would be pulling their hair out, the other kids would see this. At some point it stigmatizes your child in so far as his peers are concerned. If the teacher can’t get along with him, why should they?
Then the house burned down and our entire lives were turned upside down. He struggled even more. We moved to a neighborhood out of his school zone. There were few children his age. He had few friends in that time span. We kept him in the same school, I drove him across town every day. We didn’t want to add to the already traumatic experiences he was dealing with by moving him schools mid-year. His third grade teacher loved him. She struggled with him but she loved him. She supported him more than I can even begin to tell you here. It would literally take all day. So I will leave it at that.
Finally fourth grade comes and we’ve settled (or so we thought) and we decide it’s time to move him to the closer school. It turns out half of his hockey team goes to this school, two of his closest friends from hockey are actually IN his class! For the first time I had a lot of hope for him. He would finally fit in, be accepted, he could start over fresh. No one had to know he’d struggled all of these years. We focused on the positive with him. We told him this was his chance to “start over” to behave differently, to erase all of the bad behavior that followed him from year to year at the other school. To not be the “class clown”.
We were naive. I was naive. Day one he picks up a bully. A kid from my mom’s neighborhood he’d had trouble with previously. Who starts a new school with a bully? Only my son! The school counselor and I work together to help him with the bully situation which became dangerous very quickly. She was/is wonderful. She would spend untold hours with my son for the next several months. Helping him to deal with the fire and his feelings of loss and upheaval. Still, he would struggle. It was about 3 weeks in to the school year when the calls from the teacher started. I was disappointed and lost. What could I do to help him?? I explained to her and the counselor the years of struggle with him. The “diagnosis” of “gifted”. Finally the call I’d been dreading for years would come. “Have you ever considered testing him for ADHD?”. To my surprise I was not resistant. I think I knew, despite my years of denial, I knew and here they were offering to help us! So we began the standard testing done in schools and at home.
Finally the counselor called me to go over the results. He was off the charts in almost every area. The testing is based on a scale of 100 kids. In 4 areas he would rate 97 or higher. That means only 3 kids struggled as much as mine. I was crushed and yet relieved at the same time. Finally we could begin to understand what it was like to be him! How difficult must it be to live in his world?? The counselor however would suggest we not take these tests at face value. We should not ignore them, but we should be very sure the diagnosis was correct. For the next 4 weeks we’d participate in a “double blind study”. With the supervision of his pediatrician and a pharmacist we would “test him”. We would have two weeks of placebo medication and two weeks of ADHD medication one low dose and one high. The only person to know which med we had would be the pharmacist. We would chart his behavior each week and at the end we’d see where we were.
I would begin to have discussions with him about the medication, about what it would do for him if we were right, about how it could help him to focus, to be able to concentrate on those timed tests he struggled with for so long, etc…
The first two weeks we noticed no change. I started to think we were wrong, or that I’d been right all along in resisting this idea. Then the third week came and the difference was night and day. I literally can’t explain it. He breezed through his homework, even the timed test practices he struggled with, he’d finish them with time to spare. He was more focused at hockey practice. Less combative at home, less likely to flit from one activity to another. On and on it went. I KNEW at that point. It was a med week, I assumed a high dose med week to have changed his behavior so drastically. Week four came, it was similar to week three but the change was not as drastic. He struggled a bit. I was sure it was a med week, but I was also sure it was a low dose week. The final week would be the week before Christmas vacation. It seemed unfair to me for us to be testing him this week. No kids can focus that week! Visions of sugar plums are already dancing by then. I was concerned the test would be inaccurate. We would have to wait until after Christmas break to get the results. It was a LONG two weeks, all of us wondering what we’d find out.
Just to add to the drama (because we don’t do anything drama free around here) we found out on the 30th we were able to buy the house we’d been coveting, we would however have to close before the end of the year and move over New Year’s weekend. That same weekend we had a home hockey tournament I was the tournament director of. We never do anything half assed ya’ll. To add to all of that we made the very difficult decision to put our oldest dog down, she had crippling arthritis, she could barely stand up. Another move was just out of the question for her. Joey would take that EXTREMELY hard. I had no idea how hard it would hit him. We’ve only had her for a little over 2 years. She was my grandpa’s dog, I inherited her when he died. She was one of two dogs to survive the fire and I think that would factor in to his heartbreak. I think it felt like we were taking away one of his only remaining constants. Had we known we still would have had to make the decision we made, but we might have done it a little differently. Then on January 1st his great grandmother died. It was like two fists in his gut at once. We wouldn’t know for a few days how hard he was taking it though, he hid it well. The day he started back to school he made an appointment with the counselor, that’s how I found out how hard he was taking all of the upheavel. After a year and a half of constant change and loss he just broke. I should have seen it coming. We all should have… It broke me LONG before it broke him. We were so oblivious. The final straw for him was a phone call from the school on his first day back. He’d have to change schools AGAIN. He was in another school area and the school he was in was already over capacity. He would have to move, there was no way around it.
We again focused on the positive, or tried very hard to. We promised to call the counselor and the pediatrician and get the results of the study. He may have to switch schools but by golly he’d be doing it with the tools he needed if he needed them.
Not surprisingly he did. I was right about the meds but I was wrong about the dosage. The best week was actually a low dose week. He could take low dose meds and they would make all the difference for him. We started him right away. He’s now on a low dose of Concerta. To say the difference is dramatic would not even begin to adequately express the difference. He likes to say the “buzzing has stopped” referring to the constant hum of activity that went on in his brain before the meds.
He would have several bad days before he started his meds and I am not sure he wouldn’t have had the bad days no matter what. Two days I really, really worried about him. He cried all day, I even kept him home from school those days, he just couldn’t stop crying. It was all too much.
It’s been 2 months (wow the time just flies). He’s made good friends in the new school. There has not been one single call from the teacher. He goes to a support group to deal with his losses and he takes his meds every day. At 10 he’s old enough and smart enough to articulate the differences in himself. He is still “gifted”. He still finishes his work before everyone else in class. The difference now is when he’s done he will sit quietly and read a book rather than distracting the whole class.
He is a different kid. Still full of spunk and still Joey, he would still swear the sky is NOT blue if I said it was. But the “buzzing” has stopped. That is music to my ears and I will never forgive myself for not helping him quiet that buzzing sooner.