Thursday, April 25, 2013

Finally Finding Focus: Our ADHD Story

I didn't use to believe in medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Truth be told, I didn't use to believe in ADHD at all. Nobody was ever diagnosed with it when I was a kid back in the 1970s. Now, it seems to be everywhere. "Perhaps as many as two million American kids" now suffer from it, and "on the average, at least one child in every classroom in the U.S. needs help with the disorder," according to current estimates.

My mom and I talked about ADHD when it first started appearing in major news reports. "This is ridiculous," she asserted. "If this had been around when you were younger, you would have been diagnosed with it. But you were fine." (Hmm.) "Yeah, ridiculous!" I agreed, somewhat over-emphatically.

Given my scoffing skepticism, perhaps it was cosmic justice that my eldest child ultimately received a diagnosis of ADHD. Kindergarten schoolwork hit us like the proverbial ton of bricks. First, I yelled and screamed and fought with my daughter. Not my finest hour.  Then, I yelled and screamed and fought with various school and medical officials to get help for our daughter, who found reading, writing and arithmetic to be so terribly difficult. We obtained preferential seating and extra time on tests, we hired tutors, and I worked for hours with my daughter teaching her in the way she could best learn. Other parents skipped these "behavioral management techniques" and went straight to a medication regimen, but we persevered without it.

When my daughter began middle school, we realized behavioral management wasn't enough. "We're going to have her evaluated for medication," my husband Manny and I informed the school's vice-principal. "Good," the vice-principal responded immediately. Still, I wondered and worried. The first doctor we saw was a stuffed-shirt know-it-all who spoke less than 5 words to my daughter and determined that he couldn't help her because her grades were adequate. "See you in six months," he said. Outraged, my husband and I nicknamed him Dr. Grossbutt, and ratted him out to our pediatricians, who had referred us to him.

The second doctor talked to our daughter and to us for a long time before asking why the schools hadn't given my daughter more help sooner. The doctor recommended starting medication without telling the school, so that the teachers could continue to make unbiased evaluations of her school performance. The first dosage didn't have much effect, so we raised it a bit. Then our daughter started noticing things getting easier for her. She mentioned that her grades were improving, and her expectations for herself became higher.

At the next parent-teacher conference, the social studies teacher came up to me and said, "That medication you're giving your daughter is really helping." I launched into a long explanation of why I could neither confirm nor deny that she was on medication, because it was important for the teachers to make an unbiased assessment. The teacher leaned in closer to me, completely ignoring my convoluted disclaimer, and said, "Well, it's really working!" When we received our daughter's report card, her grades in most subjects had gone up by one full letter grade since the first marking period.

I became completely convinced that ADHD existed, and that the medication was no myth either. "Boy, you've really changed your tune!" my sister-in-law commented. "I'm living with it," I answered. Regardless of whether doctors over-diagnose ADD or over-medicate kids as a general matter, I'm convinced that the diagnosis and the medication are helping my daughter. And thank God for that.

Readers: Does anyone in your family have ADHD? What's your strategy for coping with it?

The CatholicLane version of this article was listed in Tito Edwards' The Best in Catholic Blogging on the National Catholic Register website.


  1. My ADHD-er just turned 18 and will graduate in a couple of weeks. I had the dubious luxury of having been diagnosed (before is was called ADD) at the tender age of 4 and had parents who worked with me as well as put me on meds. I was able to stop meds at the age of 9. Then my youngest brother was clearly affect by the disorder. My Mom tried the elimination diets as well as the behavior modification techniques that she worked with my on but found him, when he was in second grade crying and saying "nobody likes me, I don't like me" and she decided it was time to go the medication route. My son was 4 when we took him for an evaluation. Some people might say that was too young, but even as a toddler he was fearless and did not seem to learn from his mistakes, such as riding his scooter down the stairs. Most kids would shy away. Not him, was back up and towards the stairs again.

    We've tried every medicine out there. For Him the Methylphendate versions work the best. He and Dad wanted him to start trying to reduce his meds, but his senior year has been the worst of all grade-and focus-wise. We all came to the conclusion that he still requires his meds to function in this world and recently increase his does.

    My best advice is to keep your eyes open. This is no one tried-and-true solution to any issue encountered. Like organization of school materials. this semester, a single binder with folder for each class works, but next semester it might be time to switch it up and use a multiple-subject spiral notebook for Mon-Wed-Fridays and a different one for T-Th. As they grow, this will change and your techniques will change. Don't be afraid to switch strategies when necessary. My son did best when he was busy. He did not require extra test times of have difficulty with comprehension. He was not able to work on long term project or remember to turn in homework he did. The busier he is, the more organized he is. Find what works best for your child at this point in time. You may have a rhythm going and then all of a sudden it falls apart. Expect that.

    Please say a prayer for us as we move to College. He will attend a regional campus and live at home.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience and your advice. We've had trouble with long-term projects and turning in homework, too. It's good to know that sometimes we'll have to switch strategies. And what an amazing insight that being busy helps organization. No time or energy left for distraction, I guess! I'll definitely pray for your son. Please pray for us, too.

  2. I suspect my oldest might have ADHD, but she's only six. So far we're just limping along. I'm homeschooling her so at least I'm able to tailor her school to her needs and abilities. But both of us get easily frustrated. Sometimes I feel like I'm walking on eggshells. She gets so easily overwhelmed. I'd love to find some better coping strategies. I don't completely rule out medication, but I confess I'm wary. My brother and sister both struggled with ADD and both found the medication was unpleasantly mood altering. Grated that was quite a while ago and I'm not current with what the medications are and how they've changed. Anyway, thanks for sharing your story.

    1. I struggled with feelings of frustration, too. I still do! But realizing that my daughter was really trying hard, that this had nothing to do with any defect of character, helped me to deal with it and helped me to defend her to other people. Hang in there, and God bless you and your family!

  3. This reminds me of my older daughter. She is nearing the end of second grade and is one of the oldest in the class. She's very bright and has no trouble with her work—when she does it. It's the usual: Can't sit still, can't keep quiet, lot's of trouble paying attention, and is very distracting to others. Homework is a battle: Nearly an hour of arguing for 10 minutes of work.

    School has been a battle since 3-K. She has been in public school and is currently in parochial school. She likes her school and likes her teacher, but can't stay out of trouble.

    Kind of like I was at that age. (Hmmm...)

    Our younger daughter, however, is the model student. She has focus and work ethic in spades. (She has her flaws, too, but has no problems in school.)

    Still, I am absolutely terrified of medication. Not only is there the fear of side effects and dependency, but my fear is that we will be drugging her into what what we want her to be instead of letting her be who she is.

    Kind of like this Calvin and Hobbes parody:

    How do you know when medication is appropriate? I don't want to turn my daughter into a chemistry experiment.

    1. We were lucky, because it didn't take long to find the right medication and the right dosage. I've heard of others who weren't so lucky. What might help is to find a doctor you trust and tell him or her exactly what you said here. A good doctor should listen to your concerns.