guest post by Jon
Quite some time ago, some helpful person told us that our son was NOT normal. Actually it was a pre-school teacher that pointed out that our son, over there in the corner constructing the Great Wall of China out of foam blocks, was not behaving in the same range of “normal” as those other kids, all sitting quietly around the table coloring neatly inside the lines. They informed us that he was exhibiting traits that are found on the autistic spectrum and was either under-focusing or over-focusing.
In an ill-formed attempt to send him down the right path, we put him into a nice, strict, traditional school with uniforms and everything. At the end of that year the wonderful teacher burst into tears to tell us that traditional education was not going to work for him – something about neat rows and following directions. This of course was somewhat disturbing because we thought (read we were “skeered”) that the local school’s “regular” curriculum would wreck him, but the neat rows would wreck him faster.
In the regular, disorderly, not-neat row, not uniformed, elementary school, we found a lot more support. We heard terms “AD/HD” and “Autistic Spectrum” again, and we were encouraged to have a look into that, in a friendly way. Rather than going to those nasty, drug pushing, dope-your-kids-into-a-coma, pediatricians, we went to a naturopath.
The naturopath did a bunch of tests and found that there were some major food allergies and some heavy metal toxicity. We changed our diet and did see some big improvements and by the end of grade 1, things were looking a bit better. Then we did a “cleanse” for the heavy metals and things went right back to where they were in the beginning. Although it shows that were were onto something, the naturopath never brought things back down.
In grade 2 we were faced with a choice of going to a pediatrician, getting an actual diagnosis, and taking meds… or… working really hard at diet, vitamins, special teas, etc. the Pros for the pediatrician/meds option is that things would be instantly better, his behavior would be more tolerable, and most of all, he might actually sit still and learn. On the negative side, it would be easier for us… not kidding… that was our thinking. See, if it is easier for us, then maybe we should just try harder, help in the class more, buy more expensive, more organic, more exotic food. So we made the grade 2 teacher deal with the full level of his behavior for the full year while we debated this.
For me, it came down to education. I couldn’t give mind-altering, behavior changing meds to my son that would just make things easier for me unless I really understood what was happening. [I’m debating getting all technical here and referring to books that I read, but if you really want the info, then you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you more info]
AD/HD is a disorder where the body is not creating enough dopamine (we’ll call that “brain food”). The prefrontal cortex is the front-top part of the brain and is responsible for “executive function” – or in plain English, it makes your brain organized and prioritized. The prefrontal cortex eats the food (dopamine) in order to do its job. If there is not enough food, then it slows down and starts working poorly. If that happens, then the rest of the brain is left to figure out its own priorities. In the case of a 6 year old, that means that they will choose as the highest priority whatever creates the most excitement. In the case of a creative 6 year old, there are some REALLY exciting thoughts available to choose from. This 6 year old will “seem” hyper because they are bouncing from one exiting thought to another. In the case of a 34 year old male, who is running their own business, it might mean being overly focused on the first e-mail he reads that day and loosing track of other priorities that were more important, like paying the phone bill before it gets cut off today.
Suffice it to say, that when reading about how and why my sons brain works the way it does, I saw why my brain works the way that it does. I saw why I keep having customers that have to wait too long for things that I should have been able to deal with faster, while focusing on the most exciting project that day.
So we made an appointment for our son to see the pediatrician and we made an appointment for me to see a shrink. We both got diagnosed with AD/HD a week apart (feeling all proud of myself for walking through this with him). We put him on Ritalin and it was like a light switch… He remained creative and boyish, and artistic, but instantly started making better choices that meant less consequences, and less destruction to clean up after. He became more articulate, started playing with friends, tidied his room by himself, and other things that made us cry.
I, on my shrinks direction, started drinking fish oil (turns out that fish oil is really good for AD/HD) and taking Ginko Biloba, but organization did not pick up for me all that much. I went back to see the shrink, and he has now started me on two meds… 1) Welbutrin – which is technically an anti-depressant (and sometimes called the “happy” drug) but has an effect of creating a fair bit of dopamine, and helps you to see through the anxiety of the large task list of things that you have been forgetting to do, and 2) Dexadrine – a mild stimulant.
*** that’s right, for AD/HD you get a stimulant! In fact coffee helps people with AD/HD. Don’t ever listen to that un-educated person that says you shouldn’t give a hyper kid coffee. The caffeine creates dopamine and helps them make better choices and they seem to slow down, because their brains are working faster. ***
I have to say that I have had my own light switch moment. Whilst taking the stimulant, I wake up with a better sense of my day’s priorities. I can see, AND REMEMBER, my task list throughout the day. I can adjust to new tasks that get added in throughout the day. I can say “No” to distractions a LOT easier. I am getting things done. I feel like I am in control of the important things in my life, rather than running behind them.
But I am still me. I can still articulate my thoughts. I feel and have to deal with the same range of emotions. I can still solve complicated programming issues with the same diagnostic mind, but I don’t get lost in that programming issue to the expense of the rest of the world.
AND, I am not on drugs forever. I am working on developing new planning and organizational habits that will help even when I am off the meds, but it is WAY easier to keep at those skills until they become habits while on them.
In Conclusion, the local schools have been GREAT (for all our kids). The naturopath was on the right track, but didn’t get us far enough for long enough. The pediatrician was not a pill pusher. Ritalin does not make your kids comatose. The grade 2 teacher endured a lot (and we are really sorry). The shrink was not a pill pusher either. AND… It is a real benefit for an adult to deal with their AD/HD; It is not just a kid thing.