ADD AND ADHD: DENIAL OR IGNORANCE WILL NOT TAKE AWAY A MENTAL DISABILITY
I recently read somewhere that “God gives special children to special people.” Well my husband and I must be very special people because God gave us two special little boys (my biological son and my nephew whom I adopted) and whom both at the age of six were diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit hyperactivity Disorder).
ADD/ADHD is a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes a person to not focus, become over active and or not being able to control their behavior and it’s simply something that a belt can’t fix.
The reason that I chose to write this article is because my heartaches and I cringe whenever I log onto Facebook and there’s a picture of a belt with the words “The original ADHD medicine” captioned underneath. I become frustrated when I go to the grocery store, and eyes get to rolling and heads get to bobbing from strangers ridiculing a parent because she can’t seem to control her unruly child. I often hear the strangers say; “all that child needs is a good belt to that behind.” Years ago, I was that same stranger saying those same things until I had my very own child who exhibited some of that same type of behavior. I can remember taking my child to the grocery store and me carrying a belt inside of my purse. Yes, I was one of those parents who believed in the same type of corporal punishment that I received when I was a child back in the 70’s. Discipline consisted of a good ole fashioned butt whipping and sent to your room with no TV. Well after years and years of whipping my child, I finally realized that a belt wasn’t the answer; because if it were, I would have the perfect child.
Times have now changed and technology has become more advanced.This brings me back to my boys. Before they were diagnosed with those disorders, I’d tried it all. First I was in denial … boy was that fun until notes were sent home every day from their teachers, the temper tantrums and the constant bickering. Let’s not forget about the falling out on the floor, the running away from home and “I hate this house” bitter undertone. This led to the belt, “there’s nothing wrong with you,” I would scream one lash after the other (whippings were my way of giving them a legitimate reason to hate this house). But the minute after the sting wore off the behavior remained the same, sometimes even worse.
After much research about hyperactive kids I decided that maybe it was their diet. Maybe they were not eating enough fruits and vegetables and consuming too much sugar. At the time I still didn’t want to believe that my boys had ADD/ADHD so I took on the attitude of “boys will be boys” and changed their diets, which included more fruits and vegetables with less sugar… Still no change! They were still very hyperactive boys, just a lot hungrier because they hated all of the vegetables, and I’m almost positive that they spit them out when I wasn’t looking.
Then I tried the “time out” method. Wow that was interesting, by the time they left the corner I had freshly designed Picasso look-a-likes carved into my walls (the most interesting one read….I hate my life!!!!!).
Then there was my conversation with God… Yes I got down on my knees and I asked God for some help; still no physical change. Then all of a sudden there was emotional change. My nephew who was in the kindergarten and in the process of being kicked out of his third school balled himself up in a knot and cried out. “Help me Auntie! Something is wrong with me. I can’t help the way that I am acting.” A chill ran down my body and I froze. I was afraid and so was he. I immediately pushed my fears aside, sat down on the floor next to him, and wrapped my arms around him as tight as I could. I told him that I loved him and we cried together.
That’s when I knew right then and there, God was speaking to me. I felt him say to me, “If anybody can do this….you can!”
At that very moment I knew what I needed to do. I got up off of my knees and said to myself; “Denial or ignorance won’t make this condition go away.” So I got out of denial, threw away the belt, removed them from the corner, added a little more meat and potatoes to them vegetables, and got busy.
I called my nephew’s kindergarten teacher (who actually praised me and gave me a big hug for being courageous). We had a meeting and we both decided that my nephew should be tested for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The teacher kept really good detailed notes and I had notes of my own. The next step was to take them to his pediatrician. The pediatrician looked over both of our notes and I had to answer a series of questions and so did his teacher. Within a few weeks we learned that my nephew indeed had ADHD.
Once we received the diagnosis, there was no time for me to be sad. I had to be strong for this little boy and I needed to learn all there was to know about this disorder and most importantly…how it wasn’t his fault.
My husband and I weighed all of the options that were laid out which included counseling and medication and if we didn’t want to medicate, we could try homeschooling.
Before we adopted my nephew, we had taken him to counseling for two years (although it was a great way for him to express himself and his feelings; it wasn’t really helping his aggressive and sometimes violent behavior). My husband and I both work full-time so homeschooling was off the table. That left us with only one other option and that was medication.
I was so afraid to give this child medication. I thought about all of the countless times that I heard people say that medicine turns them into a zombie, or how teachers just wanted to throw kids on medicine to make them shut up.
Then I considered what would become of him if I didn’t at least try it. I thought about his teachers who only wanted to report to work and do what they love to do most “teach” and not babysit a child who was disorderly, disruptive, recalcitrant, and very aggressive at times. I thought about how my nephew was actually taking away from the other kids who were there to learn. I thought about his classmates, who were frightened of him, made fun of him and called him crazy and laughed at him because of a condition that was beyond his control. I also thought about him. Didn’t he deserve to live a life that’s fulfilled or as normal as possible and it all could be done with the swallowing of a pill?
Once I sat down and thought about all of these things the decision was easy. We went with the medication. But before we decided to give my nephew the medicine (who was very mature for his age), I had a long talk with him and explained to him what was going on. He asked questions, and I answered them the best that I knew how. I assured him that it wasn’t his fault and his uncle and I would be behind him every step of the way and we were not going to be defeated by this disorder we would embrace it.
Once he started taking the medication, we got a chance to meet the real person that was bottled up inside. He had always been much more advanced for his age but he jumped, leaps and bounds over his peers. He could read, do math, science and draw exceptionally well. He won just about every award that the school had. He was so advanced that the school wanted him to skip the second grade and go straight to the third; I refused out of fear that he would miss something.
The following year when my biological son reached kindergarten, his problems started to surface. He wasn’t as hyper, or aggressive and violent like my nephew, so I ruled out ADHD (there goes the denial again). Unlike other kids his age, my son was not very active, he was tired all of the time, and he simply did not pay attention. I assumed that it was just immaturity, so I took on the “each child is different” attitude. Well his kindergarten teacher wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easy; she was very outspoken. When I would go to pick him up from school, she would holler over at me through a crowd of screaming kindergartners “Mrs. Criswell, something’s wrong.” I’d ease over to her, heart pounding seems like a hundred times a minute and waited until everyone left. She said; “your child doesn’t pay attention, he doesn’t stay in a single file line, he colors outside of the lines, blurts out things, and is constantly daydreaming.” When she saw the tears in my eyes, she said “but you know what I find so special about him? He can read. He knows his numbers, his letters and his colors and all of his shapes.” I felt a bit relieved, but I knew deep down inside that my secret had been exposed. I knew that my child couldn’t do simple mundane tasks such as coloring inside of the lines, putting his clothes on by himself, putting his shoes on the right feet and he was messy. I thought that I could mask it by teaching him to read, write his name, teach him his colors and his numbers before he entered into kindergarten and maybe they wouldn’t sweat the small stuff. But I’d soon found that wasn’t enough. Kindergarten is actually about the small stuff. He needed to be able to function outside of those things, which was very difficult for him to do.
Just like my nephew, the teacher wanted to have a meeting with me. I agreed. The specials teacher, the principal, and my husband and myself sat inside of a small room discussing our son. Our objective was to come up with some solutions to this problem. Like before she had her detailed notes and I had mine. Since he wasn’t aggressive like my nephew, medicine never crossed my mind. Our game plans consisted of giving him extra time and have him go to a special class a few times a week so that he could get some one on one attention. There he was supposed to learn a little independence and do simple things like, how to hold a pair of scissors, cut and paste, color inside of the lines, and organization skills. I was happy that my child was finally getting some help, but something still just wasn’t right.
My worst fears came to the light when I went to pick my son and my nephew up from the after school program that we had them enrolled in. I stopped by my child’s classroom before I went to get my son, and hanging on the outside wall of his classroom were each student’s drawing of the United States Flag. Every one had to draw the flag and color it red, white and blue with stars on it. When I looked at my child’s flag it stood out from the rest; not only had he drawn it backwards, he colored it green and yellow. I cried right there in the hallway.
I got my boys from the program never mentioning a word to them. When I made it home, I confronted my husband (who seemed to think that my son was just a baby and he’d grow out of it). I told him what happened about the flag and said; “look, you can live in denial, but I’m not. I am calling his pediatrician tomorrow because I refuse to let my son fall behind.”
My husband was nervous but he eventually jumped on board and agreed to have our child tested. Within a few weeks he was diagnosed with ADD/Attention Deficit Disorder. He was prescribed medicine and almost instantly we noticed a drastic improvement. He became more active, was much more focused and he was able to keep up with his classmates. He is also an advanced reader, a great speller and loves to play basketball.
I know that some parents may have a hard time accepting the fact that their child may have ADD/ADHD but I can assure them that denying the problem will not make it go away. I do know that each case is different and there is no one size fits all solution to this problem but I do suggest that parents take the first step and have their child tested. Children are our future and I do believe that each and every one of them deserves a fighting chance.
My children have been taking medicine since 2008/2009 and life is not always perfect; (periodically they still have outbursts and attitudes) but it’s controllable. I am not certain what the future holds for my boys but I can rest comfortably knowing that I gave them all of the tools that they need to succeed.
The rest is up to them!
T.L. Criswell is committed to bringing awareness and enlightenment to ADD/ADHD, advocating largely on behalf of parents of children and children suffering in silence.