We resisted medicating Lucas for his ADHD for three years. Like many parents before us, we took the try-everything-else-first route, which served a two-fold purpose: First, it acted as a defensive barrier against those who might secretly accuse us of lazy parenting. “Ah, yeah, we’re drugging our kid. But don’t worry, we’re not lazy parents; we tried everything else first.” Second, it prevented us from feeling (as) guilty about drugging our kid. Because … we really did try everything else first.

The tipping point in the big “Do We Medicate” debate was the teacher-parent conference. I sat with my husband on one side of the table and Lucas’s four teachers sat facing us. A gelatinous blob of PLEASE HELP US DO OUR JOBS lumbered across the table, swallowed me up, digested me, and shit me out on the floor as a steaming heap of ineptitude.

These are the best teachers in the state. They’d tried every technique they knew and Lucas was still only completing about 40% of his schoolwork. He was a wreck in the classroom, materials strewn about, never aware of what he was supposed to be doing, always making disruptive noises and interrupting the teacher. The teachers spent so much time redirecting and trying to reach Lucas that the other students’ education had been compromised. After that meeting, I went home and bawled my eyes out. We had to do something. “Everything else” wasn’t working.

Lucas started 10mg of Focalin on a Tuesday. Fifteen minutes in, I began to notice differences. Little things. I went to ask him to put on his shoes, but they were already on. I asked him to get in the car, and he said “okay” and got in the car. (?!?!?!?) During the ride to school, he stared thoughtfully out the window. I thought OH MY GOD HE’S BECOMING A ZOMBIE!!! I asked him what he was thinking. He described to me an intricate plan for his next building design on Minecraft. Who was this child speaking in bullet points?

When he arrived home from school that day he walked in the door, placed his shoes neatly in the laundry room, unpacked his backpack and lunchbox and scurried off to do his homework. His younger sister was running around screaming and he said, “Can you please be quiet? I’m trying to concentrate.” That was the first time I’d ever heard him say anything like that. He finished the homework in record time and flew out the door to play with the neighbors.

Wednesday after school I asked Lucas to clear his papers off the kitchen table. A minute later I turned around to bark at him a second time and was startled to find he had already done what I asked. I choked back the bark and had an epiphany instead: Lucas isn’t the only one who’s been suffering here. ADHD had been wearing all of us down, especially me, his primary caregiver. I’d been worrying for so many years that the constant negative feedback Lucas received at school would condition him to believe that all he could expect from life was an endless torrent of people begging him to pay attention and telling him his best wasn’t good enough. A justifiable concern, for sure. But I nearly overlooked what ADHD had done to the rest of our family. To me.  

I realized that through all these years of struggling to manage Lucas’s ADHD, I too had been conditioned. I’d been conditioned to assume that Lucas would never ever do what he was asked. That I had to enunciate and repeat and have him regurgitate back to me while maintaining eye contact, then ask him to repeat it for me one more time, and then I still needed to check in with him two minutes later to be sure he was following through. I’d been conditioned to believe my child could not accomplish much of anything without my relentless helicoptering. To yell, because sometimes that was the only way he would hear me; to shush shush SHUSH!!!, because he never shut the fuck up with the crazy repetitive nonsense noises.

To summarize: I had become conditioned to be annoyed by my own child. The crazy thing is, I didn’t know it. That is just how things were. To me, that was motherhood.

Thursday morning the week of starting meds: On the drive to school, Lucas worked with his multiplication flashcards in the car. He shuffled through them, reciting them aloud, repeating each one three times to help himself remember. He soon began to eliminate the ones he knew and set them aside. He worked through the cards until he felt confident he’d memorized them, then he set the whole pack aside and said, “Mom, let me know when a minute is up. I’m going to think about something else for a minute, then I’m going to come back and see if my brain still remembers everything.”

A wave of some strange new emotion washed over me and made me shudder. My son had just reminded me of … me. Without any prompting or encouragement, he had devised a study technique that I had also once independently devised for myself. The thing I thought was: Oh my god we are related! My son! It was the first time I had ever felt that kind of genetic connection with him. It leveled me flat.   

Later that afternoon I went to pick Lucas up from chess club (shut up, it is so cool) and I ran into his reading and social studies teacher. She beckoned me over so she could tell me how Lucas had been doing the last couple of days. She was as excited as if she’d won the lottery, literally trembling with joy. “Look,” she said. “Look at this writing sample. Just LOOK at it! Look how much he wrote. Look at his handwriting. And READ it. Oh my god just READ IT! It reads like a science textbook!”  

Lucas politely interrupted our conversation because he wanted to inquire about the fire alarm on the ceiling. He’d never noticed it before and had roughly eight fucktillion questions about how it worked, who maintained it, whether or not it chirped if the batteries died, if the call to the fire department was automatic or if it was someone’s job to make the call, and if so, whose? He fired question after question at his teacher, squinting thoughtfully and maintaining eye contact with her as she answered his questions. The teacher and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes. 

For years, I have thought of myself as in impatient, highly reactive person. A yeller. A snapper. A toy-thrower-awayer. I have thought, on many occasions, that maybe I am just not cut out for motherhood.

That has changed since Lucas started meds. The meds don’t wear off until 6:00 or 7:00 pm, which means I get a calm, attentive, non-ticky version of Lucas for two or three hours every day after school. It turns out, when I have two children behaving as one would typically expect children to behave, I am an impressively patient person. And I always have been. I just forgot.  

So the thought I’ve had lately, the one that makes me really sad and confused is this: I like my child better when he’s drugged. He is more coherent, easier to communicate with, more organized in his tasks. And more than that, I like myself better when he’s drugged. I hardly yell at all. I can hear myself think. I am not frustrated and short-tempered. I like these things. I like this life.

But is the drugged Lucas still the real Lucas? Did I medicate him to make him more like me? Did I drug him into conformity? Have I done this to him to make my life easier? Who am I really helping here?

I’m still reeling a little, though now that Lucas has been on meds for six weeks I have more perspective. We haven’t been medicating on the weekends and I’ve been delighted to find that I am significantly more patient even when he’s off meds. I think having him on meds during the week buoys me enough so that if we have a few standout moments of ADHD over the weekend I am more emotionally equipped to handle them. And Lucas? He says school is fun now that he realizes he’s good at it. He tells me he enjoys learning because it makes him feel smart. He’s happy his teachers aren’t on his case all the time anymore.

And I’m telling myself that the medicine does not make Lucas a different person or a better person. He was already a good person, already enough, before medication. The medicine does not change who he is, it just clears away the excess noise in his mind and allows him access to his thoughts. It lets him be who he was meant to be.

That is what I’m telling myself.

Lucas watches the Blue Angels. He wants to fly jets one day.
Lucas watches the Blue Angels. He wants to fly jets one day.

Full disclosure, for parents of children with ADHD*:

There are side effects: Lucas sometimes gets headaches. The second day of medication he told me his head hurt so much that it felt like his eyes were growing into his brain. I’ve never heard him describe anything that way before, so it concerned me. He hasn’t had any headaches in a few weeks though, so I’m hoping we’re done with that. On the few days he had a headache, a regular dose of ibuprofen knocked it out.

Coming off the medication is difficult. Lucas is extremely touchy for an hour or so in the evenings while the effects wear off. This touchiness could manifest as grumpiness, weepiness, or full-out anger. To mitigate this, I have explained to him what is happening and warned him that if he’s feeling overwhelmed by his emotions that he should come to me and we’ll hug it out. I’m also more forgiving in these times when I know he is having difficulty managing his feelings.

He has absolutely no appetite while medicated. I was worried about this one from the start, since Lucas already doesn’t have much fat to spare. Fortunately, he has been ravenously hungry at night and at dinner, eats like he’s in a competition. Three plates of food this kid will consume. That, combined with a calorie-dense breakfast has been enough to keep his weight stable so far.

*I’m not a doctor, just a mom sharing my personal experiences with my sweet ADHD kid. None of this is medical advice. Medical decisions are between you and your healthcare professional. 

40 Comments

  1. This is great. Some kids just do better on meds. Mine included. Yes, the appetite side effect was odd at first, but he makes up for it by eating a ton at night. And as time goes on, you may find the effect lessens. My L has been on for over a year and he still has bad days, but he feels so much better. It changed the entire family dynamic. I too was always annoyed. Now, we can enjoy each other. Brave post.

  2. I am also NOT a medical doctor, but if the headaches and appetite issues continue, I would suggest discussing other medication options with your doctor. I have had 3 in my household (lucky me!) including my diagnosed-as-an-adult husband, all on Concerta, and it has been a lifesaver. I feel like I’m living someone else’s life because it’s SO different from the way everything was pre-meds.

    • No headaches lately, and I’ve been watching his caloric intake. I think for now he is making up for what he loses during the day when he comes home at night. The doc did mention Concerta as another option. Thanks so much for sharing!

      • We tried a stimulant for my son first. It worked great, but the loss of appetite eventually got bad enough that we switched to concerta. I don’t think it works AS well, but SWEET GOD, we can definitely still tell the difference when he doesn’t take it. Yesterday was one of those days. I screamed and separated siblings waaay more than I should have needed to. I always love my son, but when he’s medicated I can also LIKE him. Do what you need to do, ignore everyone’s crap. No one knows a child like their mom.

  3. I’m a pharmacist. One of my most memorable interactions with a patient was with a mom starting her 5 year old on ADHD meds. She came into me terrified to try a second med with her son after he had a REALLY bad reaction to the first one they tried. As we were discussing the pros and cons, the boy was running around, throwing himself on the floor, and clearly this family needed some kind of help. I called the mom the next day to see how things went and she started crying while telling me how the difference in him was like night and day. She had no idea how relieved she would feel.
    You, most definitely, are not alone in this.

  4. I’m crying my eyes out reading this. I need help. You’re inspiring me to get it for me, for mine for all of us.

  5. We did the same thing with my son’s ADHD and OCD… Tried absolutely everything else first. I’ve felt terrible about that ever since we started meds. Yes, I like him better and I like me better but most importantly, my son is happier. He is happier now that he can focus enough to do things he enjoys. He is happier now that he isn’t always on a behavior plan to manage his behaviors. He is happier now that he can just be a normal kid. I feel like I took that from him with my selfish desire to save face and do everything else first.

    He learned that he was an annoying kid who couldn’t cope with simple things instead of learning that he’s the competent, lovable person he is. Clearly he wanted to do these things since as soon as he had medication to clear his thoughts, he did them. If he couldn’t play with the other kids because of asthma, we would have started inhalers quickly. But because it was something intangible and embarrassing to medicate we didn’t.

    My daughter probably has ADHD as well and we’re not waiting so long with her. The instant it starts negatively affecting her life, we’re seeing a psychiatrist.

    Which is to say, I’m with you on this! 🙂

  6. We had a very similar experience with medicating our middle son. It’s been life-changing. For him, for our whole family. We were used to a certain “normal” and it was stressful for everyone. And now, he’s able to actually be him and not let all the other crap get in the way. So yes, I drug my child(don’t you just love that phrase?) and it’s the best thing we could have done.

    P.S. We try to do really big breakfasts as well as a later dinner since he doesn’t have an appetite during the middle of the day.

  7. Trying everything first is an important step in your journey. What it did was teach your son the skills that he was able to apply once the brain chemicals were working effectively with the medication. Like you said “within fifteen minutes” he was doing things that you would expect him to do. Medication does not teach you that, patience and good parenting does. It’s about the big picture and those who don’t try everything first are missing an important step in helping their children.
    I am very happy that things are going well. The appetite will come back as it often takes months to adjust to this effect of the medication.

  8. We also waited to put our son on meds, though looking back, I wish we’d done it sooner. He was happier when he could concentrate and keep up with the rest of the class. He liked the reduction of white noise in his head and the fact that he was less distracted by other people. And his class performance improved dramatically. Eventually, he learned coping mechanisms that made it possible for him to be off the ADD meds.

    And then we figured out he’s on the autism spectrum, too. Recently, he went on an anti-depressant and discovered that it also allows him to handle social interaction without the usual anxiety. He is so, so much happier with his life now. He’s passing all his college classes and contemplating whether or not he wants to continue or if there might be a better path for him to take to reach his goals. Without the meds, he didn’t have the clarity to even think about such a thing.

    There is no shame in helping our children navigate the world with less trouble. We may reap the benefits of more balanced interaction, but they get the relief from the constant barrage of static from their own brains.

  9. You got me crying here. Lucas was me as a child. O have been on and off meds for my ADHD since I was like 7 I hated being drugged and bow after reading this it puts things into perspective for me. I never once thought its still me its just a clearer less cluttered version of myself.
    I feel like I’m a mess without meds, I am so forgetful, to clean the house is more of a day job than one that should only take an hour, I get distracted too easily. My husband has accepted this is who I am, I am a mess I talk to much I interrupt everyone. That’s molly. Buy it doesn’t have to be. As soon as this baby is born I want to go on meds again and be the patient mom I should have been from the start. Also I am going to pray my kids aren’t mentally the same as me. ADHD is so hard to deal with. I felt like a failure so often as a kid. No friends I was too hyper. And if I was in meds they thought I was even more weird.

  10. Thank you so much for this.
    You describe exactly what we experience since my son, who also has ADHD, started with the meds.
    And I also sometimes feel guilty, although we also tried “everything else” before we were able to aknowledge that it doesn´t work.
    He´s a second grade student now, and he likes going to school, although he thinks getting up so early in the morning really sucks.
    I don´t know you but I´m quite sure you´re doing a great job.
    Much love,
    Michaela

  11. I don’t struggle with a child who has ADHD on a first-hand basis; but as a teacher, I’ve seen SO MANY kids on meds, off meds, trying to find the right dosage of meds. I’ve seen the parents who do not try everything, despite claims they have, and look to the meds to “zombie out” their kids because it’s EASIER. I’ve had parents simply tell me they’re not good at handling the “nonsense” and so opt for the meds.

    What you’ve done here is nothing short of a thoughtful process of elimination in the best interest of your child and family. You’re not covering up the real Lucas; you’re giving your son the best chance at success. You’re arming him with the information he needs to understand what’s happening with him, and you’re standing by his side throughout it all. Those who think it’s “easier” to medicate the kids must not do what you do–watch over him like a scientist, noting any and all changes and interactions that result. I commend you because YOU are the kind of parent we need more of.

    Amen.

  12. I think it is very courageous and generous of you to share your personal experience. What a blessing that these mediations are able to help your son be the best HE can be! As you said, each situation is different. But if we had a child with an infection, who did better with antibiotics, we wouldn’t think twice about it. We all want our kids to be happy, functional, thinking, playing, contributing and respecting beings… and it sounds like you have helped your son be all these things:)

  13. I loved this. My daughter is also on 10mg of Foclin and it has been a life-saver for us. Like you, we also have problems with the lack of appetite during the day, but we do an evening snack before bedtime (in addition to a good dinner) and that seems to help. People love to criticize the decision to medicate. Unless they’ve walked in these shoes, they need to STFU.

  14. Sue shores Reply

    This was a particularly eloquent essay. It brought back all the memories, realizations, and emotions of what we went through with our son. The good news is that we all survived. He took himself off the meds when he hit 9th grade (fortunately he didn’t take it upon himself to offer the meds to his friends). That was a tough time for us. Now he is a well-educated professional with a calling to help others. Keep the faith.

  15. Glad to hear about your son’s success. My HS son has ADHD and now has an eating disorder. Yes, kids are a lot of work but well worth it.

  16. Thanks for this article – so easy to relate to in its wonderful honesty. I’ll be sharing with a friend who is still struggling with the decision.

  17. That’s fantastic! I wish medication were that successful for my son. He still struggles immensely in school, especially when teachers feel he’s “not meeting his potential” because they can see he has a gifted IQ. In fact, school is such torture for him now (6th grade) that it’s hard for me to get him there, and nearly impossible for him to get through an entire school day without calling me and begging me to pick him up early.

    I wish you and your family many years of continued medication success! 🙂

    Penny Williams
    Author of “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD” and “Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD”
    ParentingADHDChildren.com

  18. This is just so right. We struggled for years under the crushing wave of my oldest son’s incessant talking, curiosity and inability to stay on task. He is such a wonderful child, but the energy he required was wiping us out, especially me, his primary caregiver. We finally had him tested in second grade and found he had ADHD. I was terrified to start him on medicine, but a small dose of Adderall has completely changed his experience as a student. It’s tougher to alter family dynamics at home, as those have been forged after years, but we are working and moving in really positive directions. ADHD is really effing hard at times, for him and for us. I hear you and wish you continued success w the meds!!! You’re doing right by all of you!!

  19. Best article I have ever read! My feelings exactly! Thank you for putting them into Words.

  20. My ADHD family in a nutshell. Thank you for being so real about medication and the amazing effect it can have. We’re still working on perfect meds and doses. We’ve seen improvement so quickly as well. It’s so nice to read your description of motherhood and patience and reminding aka nagging 100 times to get something done. Yes! Yes! And Yes! It makes sense my house isnt like other people’s houses. Our normal is so different from theirs it’s crazy. It’s easy to forget and judge myself harshly for not having a perfectly clean house or homework done and in backpacks and not have it get lost on the way to school. It literally gets lost in backpacks after hours of the battle to get it done. Our house looks significantly different than other people’s houses. It’s nice to hear that from other moms too. I hope the meds keep being beneficially for years to come. Also, there is evidence that being on meds actually allows their brains to develop more typically. They think the meds are helping to close the gap between ADHD kids and their neural typical peers. One more reason not to feel guilt over medicating. That’s happy news to me.

  21. “A gelatinous blob of PLEASE HELP US DO OUR JOBS lumbered across the table, swallowed me up, digested me, and shit me out on the floor as a steaming heap of ineptitude.”

    JESUS. that is some writing, girl.

    Also, so much here. I’m going to keep this to look back to when my kids get a bit older. WELL DONE, MAMA. WELL DONE on loving and caring for your kids the best way you can and honoring them.

    • Thank you! They edited that part out in the ADDitude Mag piece. It was a little too spicy for them. lol 😉

      Thanks for commenting. You know I adore you.

  22. Sara Davis Reply

    Thank you for writing what I’ve been flogging myself about for months. Your struggle is my struggle… I’m a screamer, threat issuer and toy thrower-awayer. My daughter has been on meds for 6 months and although some days are still like living backstage at a coked up fashion week with all the drama, paint, makeup (So. Much. Glitter!) crying and refusals to eat , the 12 hours a day of a kind, attentive child are so worth the guilt of drugging her. I too tried everything ….allergy testing, food restrictions, every form of discipline and rewards possible before giving in to what I knew, she has ADHD. And that’s OK.

  23. Thank you for sharing. Our experience was exactly the same. We are only four weeks into the journey and it is so encouraging and reassuring to hear from other moms who are on the same path. I am still fighting some of my own personal stigmas about ADHD and I have so much to learn about it. Even though I always sort of knew in the back of my mind that he was dealing with it, I was on the try-everything-else methods for many years. It was a long decision and a tough decision to make but it has been overwhelmingly positive for our whole family. Thank you again.

  24. I feel like I could have written this. Thanks for writing down everything I have felt (and done)!

  25. oh, I cannot thank you enough for your raw, honest mother perspective of adhd. I have 4 sons, 2 of whom are diagnosed with ADHD (so far…the others are too young yet). There are so many emotions that I revisit reading your words, like they are my own. My eldest son has had the diagnosis for eight years now. We have medicated him for seven. With his brother, we just started them immediately following the diagnosis. It wasn’t as scary the second go around, but the emotions were much the same. When the mood swings hit my young teen boy while he is adjusting to the med in the am or coming down from it in the evening, I sometimes doubt my decision. But he is his best self during the day, so we continue for now. My pediatrician once said that finding the right med for adhd is an art, rather than a science. I believe it to be true. We had to try several kinds and every couple years, change a dosage. I feel guilty at each dosage change too. I worry about long-term use and whether he will remember to take his meds in college or abandon them altogether. Thank you again and keep sharing. It’s therapeutic for me to read and NOT feel alone in this!

  26. I am going through getting the meds right at the moment. However, his first day on them he was actually able to express his emotions with out having a tantrum! I was nearly in tears with him that day! We are going on two weeks now and though the come down is rough, he is bouncing off the walls, he is doing so much better in school only two rough days! That is a huge improvement.

  27. My son was diagnosed with ADD when he was nine. I’ve dealt with six years of guilt over the decision to give meds to my son. For two reasons – I wish I had insisted on getting him tested and medicated sooner AND for putting him through the guinea pig mill of medications, doctors, therapists, etc. one he was diagnosed in order to find the one that worked.

    And I too am a reformed screamer, threat maker, etc. And it’s been a lot of hard work on my part to step away from that ledge and be the parent I know I could have been all these years.

    I can also tell you that his ADD has not just affected my relationship with my son but also his older sister’s relationship with her brother and me. My parenting was directly affected by my son’s ADD and in turn it affected my parenting of my non ADD daughter. Our relationship is ok but could have been sooo much better.

    I can also tell you that the teenage years with ADD are TOUGH. Not only is their brain going though a major development growth spurt (similar to when they were ages 1-3) but toss in hormones along with the ADD and you’ve got a potent mix. I know we’ll get through this time of his life and come out just fine on the other side but while I’m in the middle of it can feel a bit crazy making.

  28. I was one of those kids with adhd, still have it as an adult, and I will tell you there is nothing better you can do for your child! I was 13 when I was put on meds and I have been on them ever since, except while pregnant or nursing.
    My husband is also an obvious ADHD sufferer but was never medicated until we were married and I can’t tell you the damage he suffered from not being treated. I hope someday he will be able to overcome the damage that was done, but I honestly don’t know. After 25+ years of being told he is stupid and things are just too hard for him understand, he has a hard time not believing those lies.
    Forget what others say, you know what is best.
    Your son will be so grateful for what you have done someday. I thought I would just thank you

  29. You just described my life with my son except it does not seem to be the “cure all” some people experience. he still struggles in school, has sensory processing disorder and is OBSESSED with stuff. Any stuff, tic-tacs, legos, stuffed animals (he’s 12 too), gum, erasers, pencils (we must have over 500 pencils in this house. I. Don’t. Kid.) I’m exhausted.

  30. I love your posts. This post hits very close to home. My son has been on Focalin XR for a little over 3 years now. His metabolism is so efficient that he is now up to 30 mg a day so it can last him till school gets out. He too has the crash in the afternoon. The only major problem we have is his lack of appetite. It’s had the extreme effect where it doesn’t matter what he eats. He just doesn’t gain weight. We are trying Periactin to stimulate his appetite but so far the cons outweigh his small appetite improvement. It seems to heighten all the negative side effects of Focalin and heighten his ADHD. I’m giving it a little more time to make sure my hunch is right. We may have to stop meds all together which terrifies me. According to his pediatrician, Focalin is the most mild in appetite suppression amongst the stimulants so he is not willing to try another medicine. Any suggestions out there? Please don’t suggest recipes as I really have bent over backwards and turned myself inside and out with foods.

    • Keep after your pediatrician, and change if you have to. Just because it’s SUPPOSED to be the most mild in general doesn’t mean it’s going to be in the specific case of your kid, his wiring, and his metabolism. It’s happened to me that the med that wasn’t supposed to cause horrid side effects did, and the one that was supposed to be notorious for horrid side effects was well-tolerated. Yes, I’m still arguing with the psych, and yes, I will find a different one if she ultimately refuses to listen to me, my hubby, and my therapist.

  31. Yes, your kid on meds is still your kid. He is himself. If he weren’t, you’d KNOW, and you’d do something about it.

    I’m ASD, not ADHD, but trust me… Me on Zoloft with a benzo for those times when I’m completely sensory overloaded or hyper focusing on anxiety to the point of marathon panic attacks is still me. It’s just a happier, less anxious, less yell-y, less exhausted, less shut-down me. It’s me with more time and energy for being myself, and a myself that I hate less.

    If something had been available to help BEFORE my self-hate and /or hatred of this damnable condition was carved in stone, I probably wouldn’t still be spending 3 hours out of every week in therapy.

  32. This was an awesome article and one I relate to so very much. My son is a gifted/talented ADD 8th grader and it took us almost 3 years of counseling to get to the ADD diagnosis. He was never identified as potentially ADD because academically he was a rockstar – but he displayed a ton of “in spectrum” characteristics. Inability to sit still, he was always needing something to play with in his hands in order to concentrate and his anger was impossible to get in front. But his anger was never at other people – he would literally hit his own head, call himself names, get frustrated with imperfections of his own and he was a big kid so he scared the other children when he had outbursts.

    He was in 5th grade when we started him on stimulants and I was so thankful. Like with your son the impact was immediate and positive. The beautiful thing for me though was the ability to talk to my son about what happens to him with stimulants and what his brain is like without the stimulants (he currently takes Adderall 20 mg twice a day). It is easy to feel guilty about using medication, but discussing it with him at an age where he could put into words the difference was life changing for me as a parent. I came to realize quite quickly that this was for him and enables him to be successful with a brain that doesn’t always cooperate.

    He uses analogies which kids often do and we had recently watched Pacific Rim where there are 5 levels of “monsters” – each progressively worse than the previous one. His description of taking Adderall was something like this:

    “When I’m not taking the pills and my mind starts thinking of things so quickly, and there is noise going on and I can’t write as fast as my thoughts are coming out and there is a only so much time to get something done so I get worked up and frustrated, my body gets really tense really fast and it is like a level 5 monster coming out and I know its coming only just before it shows up and there is nothing I can do to prepare or stop it and it goes all crazy and just takes over and until it is worn out and calms down it is like I’m just standing there watching my body and mind do things I can’t control. (This is him describing when he would hit his head or stomp or yell or scream in frustration).

    When I am taking the pills I still get overwhelmed but I know it is coming. Its like a level 1 or 2 monster coming out of the sea and I can see the ripples and I can plan what to do, I have time to stop it and do the things that the teacher lets me do to calm down. So then when I’m calm again I can get back to work and I avoid blowing up crazy out of frustration.”

    We had only a few incidents of major blow ups after he started taking Adderall and he has consistently been an A student with a few B+’s in language/english – especially when there is heavy emphasis on writing. He still is challenged putting thoughts to paper but he’s learning strategies and I 100% do not believe that he would be here without the medication. He has accommodations at school but we are actually transitioning him off of an IEP this year and moving him to a 504 plan as his accommodations no longer center around learning objectives. Instead, he has an understanding with his teachers that if he gets really frustrated he can quietly get up and leave the classroom and walk a “lap” around the school, visit the restroom and splash his face with water and return to the classroom in a more controlled fashion. He does this very rarely, but it is there if he needs. Any standardized testing he is put in a small group setting because of the noise level, but otherwise he no longer needs a scribe or personal assistance.

    I refuse to let people tell me I’m a lazy parent – drugs for my child do not make him a zombie, they have let him control and tame an amazingly active brain that before was a wild beast that was controlling him. I am thankful that I was able to talk to him about it when we started the medication, but at the same time I wonder what life would have been like if he had been diagnosed earlier.

  33. Bethany Norman Reply

    I’m a mother with ADHD. I’ve been medicated since I was 13. My mom resisted meds until I was that age, and I resisted her idea of putting me on meds as a preteen, because I thought it meant I was mentally challenged in some way. Like, taking a medication, meant I had “issues”. I had trouble staying focused in school. I had a difficult time paying attention to anything, especially if it was something I was NOT interested in (like, science and math). I would even ask for the bathroom pass in 2nd grade, right when math started, and just stay in there until math was over (I would polish the faucets with the paper towels). My teacher barely ever noticed. I watched the clock, and figured out how long each period would take, and then would go to the bathroom for that long, for whatever subject I couldn’t bear to listen to that day. I would have spurts of hyperactivity in the middle of the night, and then, not be able to stay awake in school the next day. I wanted to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and get so swallowed in whatever I wanted to do, that nothing and nobody could get my attention. Retaining information was difficult. Aside from my academic issues, both of my parents were at the school I attended, and basically taught everything to me at home, I’d have to be belted to my chair at dinner so I would finish. It wasn’t abusive or anything. I just couldn’t sit still. It would take me 3 hours to eat peas (one at a time….after everyone had left the table), and 2 minutes to eat my ice cream. hahaha Aside from all of these issues my parents dealt with, with me, I was always a brilliant writer, speller, artist, and musician. That’s the thing with children with ADHD- behind all of that annoying energy and lack of eye contact, we are really gifted in the things we love to do….almost to a painfully meticulous/perfectionist sort of way. After I was put on meds, I had a willingness to learn. I retained information! My grades went from low B’s and mostly C’s to mostly A’s and a few B’s. I remember how proud I was the first time I got an A on a science test. It made me feel like I wasn’t an absolutely hopeless case….which was how I had begun to feel about myself academically. “Why were my friends so much smarter than me?” “Why couldn’t I pay attention like them?” They made it all look so easy. Having ADD or ADHD is like being in a room, surrounded by TVs, all set to different stations, all being turned up at the same time. On a good day (or, a FUN day)- when you are firing on all cylinders with ADHD- it’s the same exact scenario, except, all the TVs are turned to your FAVORITE shows, all at the same time, and it’s difficult to choose which TV to focus on. The medication helps me zero in on what’s logically MOST important at the moment. It helps me exercise restraint from laziness. So, when it’s time for me to help my 2 year old twins get ready in the morning, I’m able to get myself up and do that, rather than pushing the clock til they’re screaming and crying for me, and sitting on social media for “just 5 more minutes”… or, just “one more coffee”. The medication clears away the b.s. and the time-wasting distractions, and helps me to function as an adult should. I would highly encourage parents with children with ADHD to consider medication. Your pediatrician can start them on something very low, as a trial, to help figure out what the best dosage would be for them. If medication isn’t your thing, you could start by trying some kind of therapy, or a child psychologist who knows how to talk to kids with ADHD. They need that connection. Someone who will listen to whatever train of thought they have, and teach them how to channel their excitability into productive activity. You can’t be all of that for your kid. You can sit with them and hold their hand in the classroom, or on the playground. They to need to be able to feel like they have some kind of control over their own impulses, so they have to confidence in knowing that they’ll turn out okay in the adult world, when they’re completely on their own. Helping your child to execute restraint/self control in social settings is important. Children can be brutal to one another, and teaching a child with ADHD to build healthy friendships with their peers will also help them thrive. Hyperactive/distracted children have a difficult time making friends.

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