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!