Two weeks ago Jed and I took Cole to his pediatrician, at his kindergarten teacher’s suggestion after a particularly painful conference in which she asserted that his focus (or lack thereof) was well outside the realm of “normal.” Armed with two evaluations – one from his teacher and one from me – we went to talk about the possibility that the Kaiser has ADHD. His teacher’s evaluation matched mine nearly exactly. Our doctor talked to Cole for about five minutes, looked over the evals and suggested medicating. She was ready to write a prescription, right then and there. It shocked me, but I’m learning that’s the norm.
Jed refused. As I look back on the meeting, I think that there’s a strong possibility that I would have agreed to the medication. I want Cole to do well. I want him to feel happy and confident and I want him to love learning. I want him to be successful, and I think I’m willing to do just about anything to give him all the opportunities he should have to get wherever he wants to go. I hate that he has trouble with reading. I hate that he’s suggested, sadly, that the only way for him to stop talking is to “tape his mouth shut.” I hate that he feels different.
But Jed nixed it. He said he wanted a second opinion. He said it nicely, but he shot her down and left no room for doubt. For that, his willingness to say, “Hell no, but thanks anyway,” I’m incredibly thankful.
We were referred to a behavioural specialist with Greenville Hospital System. We’ve decided not to take that referral – at least not now. I’ve started some research on ADHD, and the amount of information out there is daunting. We’re taking steps to treat this without medication (and really, I hesitate to say “treat,” because I’m not really buying into this as a medical disorder that needs “treatment”) by changing Cole’s diet and working on a pretty stringent day-to-day structure. So far, so good. He continues to come home from school with less than perfect marks, but man – it’s ok.
Can he be a distraction to other children? Yes, and if our children are ever in class together, this is me pre-emptively apologizing. Do I think we should prescribe a stimulant to our child so that he’s easier for the teacher and less distracting for the others? Sorry, kids, it ain’t that bad.
I know his brain works differently. I do see that he has a difficult time focusing. I don’t, however, think that any of his… quirks are necessarily a bad thing. I see a really cool child who is obsessively excited about experiments and trains and weather. I see a mind constantly working on math and reasoning and logic. I see a kid who asks questions, who doubts, who pushes authoritarian bounds beyond what’s comfortable for most adults. As my mother wrote to me after I told her of this ongoing drama:
I’m sure you’re aware that there is much to value – it’s just that the world (and particularly the education system) doesn’t necessarily value “different.” But it’s not just different. In so many ways, it’s “better” from my perspective. I know through reading, consulting, and more experientially that these are the kids we all wish we had. They are creative and bright, think outside the box, and look at the world in a different way that appeals to me so much.
I appreciated that. I needed to hear it. And if we’re being completely honest, let me say this: the symptoms that characterize ADHD seem to me to describe half of the population. And that… that seems like really good marketing. How do we explain the high incidence of this brain-chemical disease in the U.S. but not elsewhere? I asked the doctor about that, and I asked her about this disorder being unknown/non-existent a generation ago. She explained that in past, those ADHD kids were just labelled “bad,” or “troublemakers.” I don’t buy it. And she had no answer for the booming rate of diagnosis in this country. No answer.
And that’s where we are. Jed and I are working closely together to ensure his schedule is the same at both our houses. We’re looking at private schools to determine whether the kid might thrive better outside the public-school mire. We’re cutting dyes and high fructose corn syrup and preservatives. We’re working at it. But we’re not going to take a perfectly normal child, put a label on him, and turn him into a patient.
If you have experience with this, I’d love to hear it. Disagree with my perhaps overly paranoid assessment of big pharma and the ADHD explosion? Hit me.