Unsolicited advice for all you ADHD/ADD virgins

When my son was first diagnosed with ADHD and ODD, I was thrilled to have an answer for why he was so difficult, but simultaneously gobsmacked by how much I didn’t know about any aspect of it: the testing, the therapy, the psychology, the copays, the medications, the behavior training, etc.  It terrified me!  I wished, while I was going through it all, that I had known someone who had also gone through it and could give me their sage, sweat-soaked advice.  Recently, a family member approached me and asked my advice in the subject – and while I highly doubted my sarcastic input would suffice, I was immediately grateful that my somewhat arduous experience could benefit a newbie.  The following are some tips I’ve compiled and should be read as an opinion and certainly not professional advice.

You may wonder when your child sprouted fur and turned in to a guinea pig.

The sad reality is that anyone, kids or adults, with behavioral/mental issues will eventually feel like a guinea pig.  And yes, it is normal.  I think we tried five different medications and combinations of insomnia-fighting agents before finding the perfect mix for us, which happens to be fifteen milligrams of Focalin XR and three milligrams of melatonin.  We started out at five milligrams of Focalin and gradually upped it over the course of a week.  With Number Two being only seven, our hands were kind of tied with what we could give him as he was not yet able to swallow whole pills (and still can’t at nine).  So there went the vast majority of behavioral health medication.  We tried Adderall (made him a total zombie.  No joke.  Sat and stared for hours.)  We tried Concerta, Strattera, and Metadate.  (These were tried two years ago, so I can’t remember the exact side effects, but at least one of these was a whole pill that I was never able to get him to swallow, try as I might.  And try I did – bribing, cajoling, yelling, hiding it in a bite of lunch meat or in a spoonful of ice cream . . . and crying.  Yes, I totally cried in front of my kid to show him how important it was to take it.)  I began giving him a dose of Benadryl at bedtime to counteract the stimulant side effect and lived for a week with him not falling asleep until 2 am.  Once I discussed this with the doctor, he suggested melatonin – a lifesaver!  Three milligrams in his mouth as I’m kissing him goodnight and it’s lights out in fifteen!  Easy, peasy.  But be warned – melatonin does not cause sleepiness per se.  It simply assists a person in falling asleep.  I have learned, through many cases of trial and error, that there is a window in which it can help.  When I say I give it to him while he’s in bed, I mean it.  That way he is laying still and quiet in the dark and then has the opportunity to help sleep arrive.  There have been times when Number Two comes out of his room ten minutes after I tuck him in and I know we’ll miss the window . . . and I really don’t want that to happen to you!

You may not know how to give your child the medication and consider just shoving it down his/her throat.

Especially if he/she can’t swallow pills.  Most whole pills absolutely should not be crushed or cut in any way, and honestly, you may be on your own there!  I have no clue how to make a kid swallow a pill . . . because my kid is super oppositional.  But, on the bright side, I can tell you little tricks I’ve worked out with taking the medication that can be opened and poured out.  When our psychologist suggested pouring Focalin into a spoonful of applesauce, I didn’t really think that was the only medium we could use (but I am no professional . . .).  I gave it to him in spoonfuls of sherbet and pudding (super yummy and agreeable, but we noticed no change in behavior those days because it seems Focalin beads won’t dissolve right in the body with these consistencies and one should not do this unless they want to waste that super expensive pill) and peanut butter (okay, in hindsight, this was child abuse.  He licked and smacked and chomped for ten minutes.  And there were tiny white Focalin beads still stuck to his lips when he tried to go out to the bus. Needless to say, peanut butter did not work!).  Applesauce gets boring, so we try to switch it up between cinnamon and regular as much as we can.  There have been days where he is throwing fits all morning and absolutely refuses to take his medicine.  Those days I am not ashamed to admit that I bribe him with a sucker, a cookie, or even a full size candy bar before school.  After all, if he takes his medicine and it helps him focus, how bad is that sugar going to affect him, really?  (Click here to read an article about sugar and ADHD.  I told you I was no professional!)

You may not understand the full benefits of the timing of the medication and/or why they can’t just make a constant release medication (these drug companies must not know a single child with ADHD).

I learned the hard way that this type of behavioral medication should be given as early as possible to keep you from strangling your child, but not too early that it wears off before homework can be completed (and you strangle your child).  In our home, Number Two gets it at eight am, after a big breakfast (remember, this stuff has the tendency to curb the appetite, resulting in a child that looks like they’re on meth . . . well, dexmethylphenidate).  That way, there are still a few good hours after school when he can complete his homework without too much of a fight (if he doesn’t lie about not having any.  Behavioral medications are not miracles in pill form!). I once forgot to give him his medication and remembered at noon.  Being new to the situation, I gave it to him then and then struggled until nearly three am to get him asleep.  Needless to say, that wasn’t pretty!

If your kid already mystifies you, be prepared for when they try to tell you about how the meds make them feel.

My son says some pretty weird things already – his psychologist actually asked me if he “normally communicates that way,” causing me to immediately question if his diagnoses were the only things wrong with him.  The doctor assured me that this difficult-to-understand way of communication was pretty normal for ADHD as the hyperactive brain may fire differently, causing the thought paths to crisscross and jump around (that’s how I understood it, anyway).  As his mother, I understand a lot of what he means, but strangers most likely have no idea what he’s talking about.  When asked how the medication makes him feel, he has responded with “heavy,” “my heart hurts,” “my brain pays attention,” and “I can’t stop thinking.”  I guess I understand that.  Wouldn’t it make so much more sense if parents could test out the medication first before giving it to the kids? Instead, we expect seven-year-olds to tell us what is happening in their brains – most of the time, seven-year-olds cannot properly convey what is happening in the bathroom!

Like I mentioned more than once, I am not a professional.  I also don’t know what I’m doing and am most likely completely and utterly unqualified to offer advice.  But, if you are going through something similar, I’d love to hear about your experiences and/or tips!

A single pair of shoes

This afternoon I sat in the kitchen, wearing my big girl panties in expectation of the brawl sure to happen as the boys walked in from school.  Immediately, there was arguing about a situation on the bus (yeah, this is everyday, nothing new here), followed by, “Take that off the floor – I tell you every single day to hang your backpack.  Why can’t you just follow the directions ONE TIME?” followed by, “Mom, this is my last granola bar.  I only had three already, just this one. Why mom, whyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!  I’m very starving!  I didn’t get time to eat!!!!!!!!!”  Followed by, “I said it’s time for homework.  Now pull your head out of your butt, take your finger out of your nose and pick up that pencil!” Then this is usually followed by more yelling (obviously not by just the kids), threatening and finally tears.  Tears always.   In the past month (and strangely it is roughly the amount of time school has been in session), I can say with complete confidence that I have cried every single weekday.   Sometimes it’s out of frustration, but most of the time it’s shame – shame at how I handled a situation, shame that I don’t know what to do, shame that I haven’t sought out the help we all need, and shame that I always know that there is someone out there in this same predicament who is handling all the same struggles with more grace than I’ve been faking – and they are probably the real fricken deal.  Graceful, that is. 

 I’m sure there are a lot of mothers of special needs kids (yeah, I consider ADHD and ODD special needs.  Sue me.) who may read this and think, “so what?  You’re not so special – we all go through this, and you are actually pretty lucky – the steady income from hubby’s job, the health of the entire family, etc.” and to that I say, “Hah!” And, “You’re right, I am lucky.”  But at the same time, those positives don’t necessarily deflect the negatives; they just make dealing with the negatives a little less stressful with room to breathe and focus on the behavioral issues and not hospital stays, babies crying, daycare scheduling, etc.  Actually, if anything, the positives may tend to magnify the negatives as one in a comfortable situation has nothing else to complain about, if you get my drift.  But maybe I’m just a complainer.  

 But here we were again in my kitchen, this time hours after homework.  My youngest was in bed for an hour already and it was only 8:30 (hey, sometime’s an introvert’s gotta prioritize – I need my down time free of having to formulate words when I don’t want to).  My two older ones were at the island counter, elbow deep in cereal and the proof was in the crumbs and mess all over.  I walked in with the intention of getting a cup of tea but was instead interrupted by half a milk footprint, a quarter cup of Special K with Red Berries crushed into the grout, the open milk gallon on the counter, refrigerator door open, and yep, there was the cat nosing all the way in the second shelf of the frig, as if the rest of the activity wasn’t enough.

 Son #1 (not as in NUMBER ONE! the favorite, as in number one, the oldest):  I have more milk than you.

 Son #2 (yeah, the middle child.  And the one with ADHD.  And ODD.): BOOCHYKABOOCHYBOOCHYKOWKOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!!!!!!!!!!.  (This is screamed.  With a smile.)

 Son #1: Moooooommmmmmm.  His disgust with my silence immediately following his brother’s outburst shames me into action, though he acts as if I wasn’t standing right there, head pounding and cleaning up the mess they made.  

 Here comes my uncool moment . . . wait for it while they continue arguing and I turn and find an empty glass just sitting on the kitchen floor next to a pair of little shoes.  It might be the little shoes that push me over the edge, and why not? Something was going to eventually.   I had my bet on something son #2 did or said as is usually the case, but it seems he got a reprieve.  ‘Bout time.

 “AAAAAAALLLLLLRRRRIIIGGGHHHT!!!!!!  That’s it.  Snack is over.  Get upstairs.”  My teeth were clenched, so this came out as “Thatsh it.  Shnack ish over. Gt upshtairsh.”  I had noticed the open kitchen window nanoseconds before opening my mouth, so I made sure to keep my voice down. Wouldn’t want the neighbors to think I’m a screamer. 

 On our way upstairs, and yes I need to walk them up to make sure son #2 actually put one foot in front of the other and moved toward a goal, I pass at least five dirty socks, half a roll of toilet paper sitting on the catwalk ledge (I can only imagine), and another empty glass.  At least this time it was on the nightstand and not the floor. 

 My blood was rushing, my cheeks hot, my hands clenched (yes, all over that silly pair of shoes in the middle of the kitchen floor).  Son #2 flings open his door, which slams into the wall in the dark room, which is dark because his younger brother was asleep in there, and promptly wakes him up. 

 I wanted to scream, and shout, and let it all out Will-I-Am style but my brain was singing a PBS song (“When you’re so mad you could roar, take a deep breath and count to four.” Works for kids, why can’t I try it?)  Don’t yell, don’t yell, don’t ye-

 “GO TO BED!  All of you, in bed, eyes closed, mouths shut.  No kisses.  NOW!”

 There is was.  The mean, spiteful, angry woman that hides below the translucent layer of momness just climbed right up and out and tada-d herself to my kids.  Did it solve anything?  No.  Did it teach a lesson?  Nah, not to the kids.  Me?  Hell yeah.  An hour after all that happened, I went into each room to kiss them anyway and found a bedroom window opened.  No biggie, normally, because my antisocial doctor neighbors practically never made appearances outside their home and always keep their windows closed tight against the dirty world.  Except for tonight, apparently.  As I closed the window, I noticed their office window was wide open, light on, a figure at the desk.  Great.  So if all the kid screaming didn’t convince them we were the epitome of immaturity and dysfunction, my unhinged banshee screams did.  And if that wasn’t enough to shame me for my ill-tempered outburst, there was that sweet, not-too-innocent nine-year-old, all curled up with his little brother’s light-up stuffed animal (likely stolen from him shortly after I left the room), snoring slightly with his mouth wide open. 

 All kids are images of perfection when asleep.  You can quote me on that one.