My eight-year-old son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. And I am one of ‘those’ parents who give their child the stimulant drug Ritalin.
Forget all you have read about this drug and what media has convinced you to believe. I too have read those articles, but I’ve also read a lot more other articles and papers; the ones that don’t get published because they don’t have enough media hype.
He has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: ADHD. He was born that way. As a newborn he had to be wrapped tightly and vigorously bounced for about 30 minutes to get him to sleep. He constantly craved movement. He started walking at nine months, and running at nine months and one day.
“He’s just a busy boy!” was the popular comforting phrase for my toddler. Sure, he was busy, but when his kindergarten friends could sit through a 12 page book and my son lasted two words before needing to get up and climb the walls, it was obvious to all, he was more than busy, he was hyperactive.
I am a well-educated, well-read, fairly tuned in mother. I was so used to my son’s hyperactivity that it was just the norm. I managed to tolerate all of the signs for ADHD until my son was about to start school and a speech therapist gently mentioned we should look into his “impulsivity”. Although he now lasted to the end of the first page of a story before moving away, his activity levels were far from “normal”. But my son was not a naughty child, just a ‘busy’ one.
Being dutiful I obtained a referral to a psychologist and had an assessment completed. My son, at five years of age, tested in the Clinical Range for ADHD. There was no doubt, no grey, no denying, my son had ADHD. But surely I could fix this, right?
Step 1 – His Diet. No sugar, no artificial colours, no salicylates, no dairy.
Step 2 – Lots of exercise, jumping and breaks running “errands” carrying heavy items.
Step 3 – Occupational Therapy. Desensitize to movement, heavy weighted vest, wobble cushion, sensory play items.
Step 4 – Behaviour Modification Therapy. Floor Time Techniques, reward charts, intensive parenting courses.
After all of this intervention, he still had uncontrollable symptoms of ADHD.
We tried everything. Thousands of ill afforded dollars later, nothing had changed; other than I was becoming an expert on ADHD “treatment” techniques. One day I was on yard duty at my son’s school and saw my little man, my sweet natured, would normally kiss you and cuddle you to death, little man, kick a boy in the back. I was flummoxed.
“Why did you do that!?” I asked.
“He didn’t move out of my way fast enough and I couldn’t control my arms and legs,” was his response.
Exasperated I asked him: “Well then, would you like some medicine to help you control your arms and legs?”
“Yes please,” was his answer.
Had I done the wrong thing by my son by listening to what the media had told me of this evil drug rather than listening to what my own son needed?
How did I feel? Media preconception: 1 – Mummy instincts: 0.
Within a couple of weeks we got in to see our paediatrician, and a couple of days later we had a box of Ritalin. At the end of trial day number one my son, then 6, was exploding with pride. “Mummy! I had a good boy day!” I cried, I was so happy for him. At the end of the two week trial he had made two friends and been invited on a play date.
We haven’t looked back. And for the majority of other parents who have made the difficult decision to medicate their ADHD children, they haven’t looked back either; at least not with envy!
I do reflect on those first nine months of schooling when my son had no friends, wasn’t invited to parties, and was always the first name to be remembered in the classroom. To say he stood out, would be an understatement. Then there was the day where he tried to climb out of his Prep room second floor window…
I was more concerned with the stigma of “drugging” my child, than his own well-being. Contrary to what media may tell you, stimulants like Ritalin are considered by paediatricians to be the “first line” treatment for ADHD. Not the if all else fails, your family and marriage start falling apart, your sanity is shattered, bank balance is empty, and there is no other hope, line treatment that so many believe it should be.
Every day I see kids at school who are not in control and whom are struggling. They’re struggling socializing, following direction, concentrating and their self-esteem is diminishing as they’re constantly in trouble. It saddens me beyond belief that the main reason why these kids are struggling is because their parents don’t want to get a diagnosis and don’t understand that Ritalin is not “drugging” their child. It’s helping them. When I speak to teachers they too are frustrated, these kids need help, but they’re not allowed to say anything.
If my son had diabetes, I’d give him insulin. Dramatic association you say? Consider these statistics. 21% to 45% of prisoners have ADHD. 30% of those with ADHD in childhood will continue to have it in adulthood. For those who have it in adulthood, 81% have at least one other psychiatric disorder. The rate of childhood suicide is five times higher for those with ADHD. Are we still thinking taking away the red cordial is going to fix these kids?
It’s time society removed the preconceptions of ADHD and Ritalin. Media is doing more harm then good by taking an effective and useful medication and making it seem like it was brewed by the devil. As a parent, it’s easy to feel like a failure if you have to resort to using medication for what is perceived to be bad behaviour. ADHD is in fact a neurological disorder. The brain is wired differently, not faulty, just different, and these kids need our help to succeed in today’s society.
One hundred years ago boys could be boys and teachers had canes to keep them in line. These days, the expectations for behaviour and academic achievement are significantly higher. My son loves reading, excels in maths and tolerates sports. He spends most lunch times in the library reading to the younger children. I wouldn’t say he’s a great “all rounder” but he’s not failing and is loving life with great enthusiasm and a positive self esteem. He is far from “drugged”.
Our home is now happy, fun, successful and calm. Mr 8 still has ADHD, but now he has the tools, and learning attention he needs, to cope with it. All thanks to Ritalin.
It may not be the right choice for every hyperactive child, but it was for ours. Are children in our society overmedicated? Perhaps. Personally, I’d rather have them professionally medicated then seeking to self medicate as a teenager, as so many non-medicated ADHD kids do.
Robyn Campbell is the busy mother of three fantastic boys all on the Autism Spectrum. As well as being a Mum and a writer, she runs two photography business’ with her husband. In her spare time she pastors to kids, runs an entertaining playgroup and is a mad woman on skates whilst playing roller derby. (AKA Bustin’ Bubbles).
Currently, she is writing her second book that takes a humorous look at living with three children with Aspergers Syndrome and keeping lots of parents entertained with her very popular blog www.mythreeaspies.com. You can find her facebook page here.
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