Thursday, January 27, 2011

Just say yes to drugs.

(Admittedly not the best picture for this post, since he looks completely stoned.)

So, Tuesday I had to go to an award ceremony for the first grade. Liam was getting a citizenship award and an award for being on the straight A honor roll.

This was a big deal.

For the first nine weeks of school, Liam was suspended regularly. I would get phone calls daily from the principal. His (mis)behavior of choice was to scream as loud as he could, for as long as he could. Long, ear piercing shrieks. He could keep it up for hours. We went through two bars of Ivory during those nine weeks, thinking that if he associated the screaming with a bar of soap in his mouth for a while, maybe he'd stop.

That didn't work out. He still screamed, but with the added bonus of diarrhea.

It all started in Pre-K. He couldn't sit still. He cried. He threw huge temper tantrums. But, the teachers blamed it on immaturity. With a late August birthday, he was the youngest in class. And academically he was doing fine.

In Kindergarten it got worse, but again it was blamed on immaturity and "just being a boy." Because apparently going on regular screaming rampages through the classroom is normal boy behavior.

At this point I suspected it was more than immaturity, but his teacher and school counselors didn't think so. And since I didn't want it to be more than that, I listened to them.

Then we moved and he started first grade, and his episodes were worse than ever. And the suspensions started. When I took him for his school physical in September, about five minutes into the exam the pediatrician asked if I'd ever had him evaluated for ADHD. I hadn't even had a chance to mention his behavior problems at school. Just the fact that he could not seem to be still or quiet for even 30 seconds made the doctor suspect.

So, we scheduled a behavioral evaluation. And everyone involved agreed that Liam had ADHD, and it was severe. And across the board they recommended medication.

I'll admit that before this, I firmly believed that ADHD was way over diagnosed, and way over medicated. And I'll even admit that I thought a lot of the parents who gave their kids ADHD meds did so because they were too lazy to really parent their kids and try behavior modification.

I know, I know.

I still think that it's over diagnosed and over medicated. And I still think there are some parents who drug their kids up beyond what they actually need because it's easier than dealing with the child.

But I also now realize that this is a real disorder. That their brain chemistry is a little haywire. And that sometimes drugs really are the answer.

We started him on medication, but I still struggled with that decision.

And after a few weeks, his teacher wrote that it was like having a new kid in class. That he was still the same sweet Liam he always had been, and still very active and a little crazy, but she could see that he was actually listening now. He could stay focused on his work. He could play with other kids, which was something he simply couldn't do before. Before the medication, his brain couldn't slow down enough to allow him to interact normally with other six year-olds.

But the real turning point that put my mind at ease about the decision was when I asked Liam himself about it. He told us that it "fixed his ears," because now he could hear the teacher. And that it "made his friends like playing with him more" because he could stop talking long enough to actually play, and he could listen to what they wanted to play sometimes, too. And then he said it "took the motor out of his legs." He said that before, there was a motor in his legs that made his body move all the time. He said he couldn't stop it--that his body would move and move until he fell asleep, but since he started taking his pills, the motor was gone. I asked him if he felt better or worse taking the pills, and he said better. He said that before the pills he was always "fighting with his brain." How can I argue with that?

And it's not all perfect. The medication makes it hard for him to sleep and decreases his appetite. So, he has to take a prescription antihistamine at bedtime that helps make him drowsy and also increases his appetite. And afternoons are hard, as are early mornings. He only takes medication at breakfast, and it wears off by around 4:00. So, it takes some work to get him to settle down after school, and getting him to focus enough to get dressed when he wakes up is a struggle. I have to get him up an hour earlier than necessary because it takes him that long to get dressed. But overall, the medication has made life better for everyone involved.

I know there are other parents like me who might be opposed to medicating their child. If you're one of them, and your doctor thinks that medication might be the way to go, I would urge you try it. You don't know what it's like for your child. They may be suffering--or "fighting with their brain"--unnecessarily.

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