As a prologue to the novel that is Dude’s ADHD story, I want to say two things. First, we are NOT naïve parents who think our kids can do no wrong. Heck no. My kids are some of the wildest, most energetic kids you will ever meet. Especially Dude.
It takes the general public about 1 minute before they start making comments like “You have your hands full with that one, don’tcha?” Or “I wish I had some of his energy!” In fact, just last week, we were in a fast food joint and after I ordered our food at the counter (maybe a 2-minute process), I turned around to see a gentleman with a petrified look on his face who almost screamed at me “He’s LICKING THE WALL!!!” Sure enough, there was my boy, licking the wall right next to the bathrooms! #Mamaproud #thatsmyboy #EfreakinColi! So we are well aware of the chaos that our kids bring to this planet.
Second, in spite of their often-feral behavior, we love our kids, a lot. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t try so hard to help!
Now on to Dude’s story. Feel free to lol at any point because if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry (who am I kidding? I already do cry, a lot!)
One morning, a year or two back, I was dropping Dude off at daycare when his teacher asked if I had a minute to talk. Those of you with kids already know that that’s never a good sign, ESPECIALLY during morning drop-off. The teacher started off very gingerly asking about Dude’s behavior at home; how well did he play with his brothers; would he sit still during meals, was he very talkative, was he aggressive, did he sleep well?
I am a fairly direct person, and given his two brother’s diagnoses (as well as Dad’s), I just asked if she thought Dude had ADHD. I got the typical response like “I’m just a teacher and can’t diagnose” and “I was wondering based on things we see in the classroom.” Blah blah blah. What she observed in the classroom was someone unwilling/unable to sit still during circle time or listen when required. If he got upset, he’d hit or kick. And at times, he’d be bored and would refuse to participate in class. Instead he’d go off by himself and do his own thing. My (thankfully internal) reaction was “No f’ing duh he has ADHD! But he is just 3 years old. Those are normal behaviors for his age.”
But alas, I shoved my brain-to-mouth filter into overdrive and asked how Dude’s behaviors differ from other kids his age. Her response will probably sound very familiar to those of you who have ADHD loved ones. She said Dude was just more intense than other kids, and that by his age, other kids had already learned not to be physically aggressive. SER-I-OUS-LY??? How many 3 year olds have you all actually seen in your lifetimes? Not physically aggressive my @$$! Ultimately she suggested that we have the little stinker evaluated by our school district.
BUT, let me get “heavy” for just a second. In spite of the fact that I was rolling my eyes out loud a lot during that discussion, my brain-to-mouth filter can be amazing, when it needs to be, and we had a decent, and more importantly, a civil and collaborative, conversation. When you’re talking about your kids’ wellbeing, it’s important to set aside your own feelings and think about what your child really needs, and what it’s gonna take to get that. This is true whether you’re dealing with your kid’s teachers, your spouse, your EX, or even in-laws you don’t get along with. I can’t stress that enough.
Ok, enough preachin’! A few weeks passed when the Director of the daycare called to tell me she had received a parent complaint about Dude. A new boy, also 2-3 yrs old, would cry when his mom dropped him off. His mom thought he was afraid to come to school because Dude had pushed him once. The Director asked what she and her staff should do to control Dude. (Again, with the eye rolling and filter in overdrive.) The thought that ran through my head was “WTF? I pay you a freakin’ fortune to already KNOW how to deal with my child. We know he’s God-Awful, but he cannot POSSIBLY be the worst kid in the history of your school!” I really wanted to use a lot of “f” words, but I didn’t. I just took a few deep breaths, remembered my church upbringing, and told her I would think about it awhile then reply via email.
This back and forth went on for a time, and Dude’s behavior never improved for very long. I asked if he could be moved up with the next higher age group, because he was the oldest one in his class. The answer was a resounding no, because that classroom also had a difficult student, and two of them together would be intolerable. Eventually though, he was moved into a different classroom where he found another boy who was just as rough-and-tumble as he was, and they played and fought like siblings! It was nice.
Honestly though, Sparky and I already knew that when summer started and Dude was old enough to move to our school district’s Early Childhood (EC) program, we’d move him, so I had mentally checked out on daycare at this point. We realized this cute little kid was a holy handful, and we needed more care than this daycare could provide.
We transitioned Dude to the EC program the summer after he turned three. That was the earliest they would take him. Almost immediately after the next school year started, the EC program coordinators began the evaluation process and we started to see a psychologist. (Another topic for later – what to look for in a mental health provider). We filled out all kinds of personality scales for the coordinators, as did his teachers. We made sure the new therapist got copies of all the results.
For our first visit to the therapist, it was just me, Sparky, and Dude, who was about 3 ½ years old by then. During that 50-ish minute visit, the therapist described him as “a little terrorist”, “diabolical”, and “a sociopath”. Not an exaggeration; those words did indeed pass the therapist’s lips! That gives you a little bit of an idea of just how wound up the kid really is. Dr. Tom diagnosed Dude with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD); yet we never once talked about those diagnoses at all!
We saw Dr. Tom two more times, but instead of discussing strategies for helping Dude, the second visit was all about me as a parent, and how I am a “stereotypical Midwesterner”, much too proper and nice. We had to take all three boys to our third visit, and we spent that day discussing Buddy and how great a kid he was. I couldn’t take Dr. Tom’s lack of focus anymore, so we didn’t go back.
In the intervening months, Dude started special education with an itinerant teacher. This didn’t bring the progress that we hoped, and he was moved into a special education classroom for half the day and a general ed room for the rest of the day. This is still his current placement, at least till the end of this school year. He still likes to hit and kick when he gets mad or doesn’t get his way. And he’s still hyper as heck! We work on teaching him social skills and self-control on a daily basis. Frankly, it’s just exhausting, mentally and physically.
Most people would probably ask Sparky and me why we put up with it, or tell us to spank it out of him. Well, we have tried everything from ignoring his behavior to spanking him for it. Nothing has worked. And frankly it would be pretty hypocritical of me to make him stop hitting people, by hitting him. That’s pretty dumb. He’s still belligerent, runs in parking lots, climbs on anything, puts all kinds of crap in his mouth, turns every run-of-the-mill stick into a sword or a gun of some sort, and is pretty much still Hell on wheels. I thought it was hard to keep Snix safe, but this kid needs a full-time lifeguard (or six).
So back during the winter, I made an appointment in a fully integrated behavioral health clinic (one that has every level of care from counselors to psychiatrists and even inpatient services). We had to wait a long time for an appointment, and we met first with the psychologist, Dr. Greg. I’m pretty sure Dr. Greg had confirmed the ADHD diagnosis before we had even made it past the waiting room and into his office. We spent at least an hour discussing Dude’s behavior, what we’ve tried, how he responded, you name it. Then, to my ever-lovin’ surprise, Dr. Greg gave us resources! What? Resources? You mean there are manuals on this crap? Why hadn’t anyone else suggested these tools to us before? He named off some books to read and websites to peruse, books and sites that clinicians use when they need information about ADHD.
Before we left, Dr. Greg had confirmed that not only does Dude have ADHD, but it is severe (about as severe as it gets), and that he likely has ODD, but treatment for ADHD and ODD is the same. He said that he typically doesn’t try to sway parents one way or the other when it comes to medication, but that Dude’s “condition” was so severe that treatment would likely be unsuccessful if medication was not a part of the plan.
A few weeks later was our appointment with the psychiatrist, Dr. Kristina. We could tell she’d done her homework before our appointment, because she knew I am a teacher by education, and that Sparky’s an engineer. She also knew beforehand that Dude was the youngest of three boys and that his siblings also have ADHD. We talked a lot about our family medical history, and a bout of RSV that landed him in the intensive care unit for 6 days (plus 2 more days on a regular pediatric floor of the hospital) when he was just a month old.
We also talked about symptoms of something called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), where some kids literally feel things differently than the rest of us. SPD kids (Buddy is one too) are often totally jazzed, or completely turned off, by certain sensory input. For some kids, it’s shirts with tags, or seams in the soles of socks, or loud noises, or strong smells, or whatever. Seems Dude’s got a touch of that too.
At the end of the appointment, we spent time discussing our options. She agreed that Dude was also putting himself in danger, so, in spite of the risks, she prescribed meds. (And a chorus of angels sang “Hallelujah!”). He just started his medication last week, and we’re still working on finding the right dose.
In the meantime, I’ve finished reading a couple books and have started on a third. I found out one of the books is actually available on video from our public library, and I have that reserved to pick up tomorrow. Cheating? I think not!
And that brings us to now. Every day is different. Some days are great. Some days suck more than a Dyson vacuum in a sand pit! One minute the Spawn of Satan is kicking me in the shin and calling me stupid, and the next minute he’s hugging me, apologizing and asking if I still love him. Or it’ll be a good day where he gives lots of kisses and tells me I’m beautiful (and what mom doesn’t want to hear that!?) Sparky and I just use the strategies we’ve learned and do our best to stay calm and sane. Some days we succeed, and some days we don’t.
So what are the take-aways from Dude’s story? Lord, I’m still trying to figure that out myself, but some of the lyrics to Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” come to mind. I’m certain that every one of these will be a future topic in this blog.
- Work with your child’s teachers and school staff as if they were your teammates. After all, they are! What’s that saying “You catch more flies with honey”?
- Finding the right mental health professional can be a very personal and tough job, and they are not all created equal.
- There are others out there going through what you are going through, and there are resources to turn to for help. Use them.
- Probably the most important point is to try hard to find humor wherever you can! Laughter can lighten your heart even during the hardest days.