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Counting To 100

February 4, 2014

My son is hilarious.  He is incredibly bright, empathetic and sensitive.  He sings like an angel.

He also has severe ADHD.  As in off-the-charts, in-your-face, impact-every-facet-of-your-life ADHD.

When he was little we knew he was impulsive and energetic.  We spent a lot of time chatting with caregivers and teachers about the fact that he had trouble keeping his hands to himself, that he had a tough time “coming down” from activities that got him riled up.  Whatever other kids did, M took to a higher level.  He was an expert button-pusher and seemed to seek out a reaction from us even if it was a negative one.

Several years passed, some better than others (when he had a teacher who “got” him), some nearly unbearable.  He struggled at school, he struggled at home, he struggled with peers…it was heartbreaking to watch.  We tried counseling, we read books, we talked to his doctor.  And in the back of our minds, we knew.

I will never forget the appointment when his doctor suggested we get him tested.  We were simultaneously relieved that someone else had said it out loud and fearful of what a diagnosis would mean.  We couldn’t possibly put our child on medication…could we?

The results were impossible to dispute.  He was textbook, black and white, no question about it ADHD.  On the one hand there was a feeling of vindication.  It wasn’t that we were horrible parents; there was a biological reason for his behavior.  On the other hand, there was an entirely new set of questions and concerns.

At first we were averse to using drug therapy.  We tried behavioral therapy and counseling instead, hoping it would be enough.  It wasn’t.  After many tears and discussions and sleepless nights, we finally relented and agreed to try medication.  And it was a game-changer.

Within a matter of weeks, M was in control.  He was able to fight many of those impulses that led to problematic behavior.  He could sit still and concentrate in class.  Our worries about him becoming a “zombie” were unfounded.  Instead, we saw a kind of peace settle over him as he stopped feeling powerless and started gaining some confidence.

It wasn’t a cure.  There were still moments when the ADHD was stronger than the meds.  He had to learn new skills now that he had the ability to do so.  He had to earn back the trust of his teachers and peers.  Our family had to adjust to the changes in his behavior.  It was a process, and it’s one we’re still going through.

To complicate matters, along the way we’ve had to make many changes to his course of treatment.  Something that was working well suddenly stops working.  External changes, like starting middle school, challenge his ability to stay organized and on task.  As his body changes, his medications must be adjusted.  It’s not an exact science, and we’re all just doing our best.

There are high points when things seem to be going smoothly, when he’s making straight A’s and getting along with his peers.  And there are low points, when he’s struggling academically and socially.  Like now.

Whatever the reason (impending puberty, increased work load at school, or something completely random), M has had a tough week.  And when M has a tough week, we all have a tough week.  The family dynamics involved with ADHD are complicated and challenging and far too much to get into in a blog post.  Suffice to say that no one is left unscathed when ADHD rears its head.

What is it like to parent a child with ADHD?  It’s difficult to put into words but I’ll try.  It means being amazed when your child’s mind processes things in a unique way.  It means being frustrated when he acts without thinking and has to face the consequences.  It means feeling guilty because there are times when you just plain don’t like him, when his behavior is annoying and he’s pushing your buttons and you just want to scream.  It means being there to comfort him when he’s sobbing and telling you how excluded he feels.  It means advocating for him and helping him stay organized.  It means taking lots of deep breathes and counting to 100 instead of 10.  It means desperately trying to build up his self esteem when it’s once again been shattered. It means watching him deal with social anxiety and sabotaging his own efforts to fit in.  It means worrying about him surviving his teen years when ADHD makes him more prone to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety, even car wrecks.  It means being awed by his capacity to love and to create.  It means being proud one moment and angry the next.

I am raising a child who befriends children with special needs and who worries constantly about his sister’s safety and well being.  A boy who makes me belly laugh on a daily basis.  A boy who wants nothing more than to be accepted and loved.

I am also raising a child who is prone to bursts of anger, who can be so hyperactive it causes people to avoid him.  A boy who struggles to stay focused and organized.  A boy who finds each and every day challenging because he is in a constant battle with his own mind.

Last night I showed him a list of famous people with ADHD.  The list was long and impressive.  There were successful business owners, athletes, singers, actors, comedians, scientists and politicians.  The article introducing the list stated that people with ADHD are 300 times as likely to start their own businesses.  Those on the list talked about their early struggles, socially and academically, and how they overcame those struggles and achieved their dreams.

As M read through the list, his entire demeanor changed.  It was as if a light came on in his eyes.  I could literally see the hope entering his heart.  He wasn’t alone.  There were others like him.  They had ADHD but it didn’t have them.

As a mom, I want nothing more than for my children to be safe, healthy and happy.  ADHD might be a threat to all those things when it comes to M, but I’m not about to give up on him.  And it’s my job to make sure he doesn’t, either.

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