Monday, July 19, 2010

Life with a not-officially-diagnosed-but-definitely-showing-signs-of-ADHD son

It's been some time since I've shared anything about my son Biniam and his ADHD.  (Well, until I accidentally hit the "publish post" button and posted this when it wasn't done yet.  Oops!)

I did mention that, at Biniam's well-check, the doctor didn't believe me or even remotely entertain the notion that Biniam has ADHD.  Not for any good reason, but simply because he claims that five-year-old boys are all somehow on the ADHD spectrum.  I understand his reluctance to slap a label on a defenseless child--I'm not a fan of labels myself--but sometimes, a label serves as helpful.  Validating.  I felt a HUGE sense of relief when I finally was able to pinpoint what was going on with my son who, while never ever EVER defiant, couldn't seem to follow through on some really specific tasks.  (In addition to a slew of other random symptoms.)  The doctor also made some really lame, offensive comments about how once Biniam is in school in a more structured environment, he'll thrive, because he knows how to push my buttons at home.  Um, excuse me?  It has nothing to do with pushing my buttons.  It's not that type of problematic behavior in the least.  I do maintain a structured-but-flexible, simple routine at home, and if this man knows ANYthing about ADHD (which, apparently, he does not), he knows that a classroom environment with 25+ 5-year-olds running around is NOT an ideal setting for a child with ADHD.  Not to mention, the impulsivity that I see is not limited to home-life.  It's exacerbated, in fact, when there is lots of noise, or lots and lots of other children (church, for example).  Classic ADHD.  (I will hereby add that this doctor doing the well-check is NOT our pediatrician, just the person in that day, and he has no children of his own.)

If you have had a doctor invalidate your motherly intuition, you know it is NOT fun.  In the least.  I'd wanted help, or hope, or a packet of pills that would make Biniam's brain slow down a bit.  Medicating children with ADHD is controversial for sure, but I'd reached a place where I felt like I was at my wit's end.  I was certain that one of us needed meds--either him or me!  But after I got shut down at the doctor's office, I knew I needed to regroup and figure out our next step.  At one point I was going to call back and specifically request an ADHD screening appointment.

That never happened though, and I don't remember why.  I guess deep down I would prefer to put off medicating for as long as I can.  Biniam is a generally well-behaved child and he's actually been doing really well lately.  In making the decision to forgo further testing (and therefore medication) for now, I have had to adjust my expectations.

My expectations.  Ouch.  I have a lot of those.

See, the ADHD-ish behaviors are things that drive me NUTS.  But they don't usually affect Biniam at all, only insomuch as it can affect how I relate to him.  For example, his impulsivity leads to him doing random things without thinking.  Or how he kinda flits around sometimes or does funny things with his hands.  Always moving, all the time.  Allllll of those behaviors drive me up the wall, but he's happy as a clam.  (He's not even what I would classify as a super active boy however.  It's more subtle.  Even the moving around.  He's not a rough child by any means.)  That's the thing about this kid: he's happy go lucky pretty much all the time.  He lives in the moment.  So far, he functions quite well, makes tons of friends wherever we go, and is well-liked by both kids and adults.  My medicating him at this point would be, in a nutshell, for me.  And my sanity.

Let me now interrupt this broadcast to say that one can NOT underestimate the value of a mother's sanity.  Honestly, there is a reason for the saying "If Mama ain't happy, ain't NObody happy."  I will not sacrifice my relationship with my little boy to avoid medication.  That is ridiculous.

That being tweaking my attitude a bit, and in adjusting my thoughts and response to him, I can--at this stage of the game--avoid putting him on medication.  He is happy, thriving, and being that he'll be homeschooled, he'll have the ability to learn at a pace and in a context suitable for him (taking lots of little breaks for example, doing times tables while jumping on the trampoline, etc.)   Biniam is a quirky little fellow, no doubt about it, but he is so full of fun and enthusiasm for life.  He has a sweet heart. 

As time goes on, we'll of course reevaluate.  There may come a day when medication is the right choice for us.  Not now though.  It would not be fair to him.  We need to try dealing with it in positive ways first, and I'm not even necessarily talking about behavior modification techniques.  I simply mean that we need to accept who he is, ADHD and all, and learn how to live well with that.  I need to set achievable goals for him, one at a time, instead of just expecting him to figure out how to keep track of his shoes...and not to push past people in his excitement to get on to the next thing...and not to exasperate his sister...overnight, all at the same time.  I cannot expect him to be wired differently than he is. 

So far I'd say things are going a bit better.  I'm making a point to have lots of positive interaction with Biniam and not getting so frustrated about certain things.  Not sure if it's like this for you, but when you're feeling happy, positive things towards your child in general, you can handle so.much.more.  You can deal with their misbehavior and issues, and it doesn't drag you down.  This is huge for me.  I'm (more than) a little nervous about homeschooling this year--I can totally see myself getting impatient and there are going to be some challenges.  BUT, we're taking it one day at a time.  And I'm seeing quite clearly the reason behind God's telling us to believe the best about others.  Why is that especially hard to do when it comes to our own children?  Maybe because it's especially IMPORTANT when it comes to our own children.

Everyone thinks they know what ADHD is.  Everyone has a picture in their mind of how it looks, what it means, how it should feel.  Well, I'm telling you that it's different from what I expected.  It's not excessive hyperactivity, chaos, or loud noise.  It's not rude and disrespectful behavior.  In my home it comes in the form of a sweet, small five year old boy who, yes, struggles with some things, like remembering names, keeping track of his ____ (insert any and every personal belonging he owns), telling the truth from time to time, or asking tons of questions.  It also comes in the form of enthusiasm, fun, a quickness to forgive, and a joy not always so easily seen in life.  Biniam most certainly has ADHD, yes.  Some days I want to swap his situation for something else that surely would feel more manageable to me than this.

But other days...other days I wonder what my home would be like without that beaming smile, or what our family of introverts would do without Biniam's sociability.  I can't really, truly seperate ADHD from who my son is, because so many of his good, amazing, unique qualities fall along that spectrum.  Just like the more challenging ones do.

In the end I know that my son is precisely who God made him to be.  He may learn to read differently, or have quirky, fidgety mannerisms, or have a harder time focusing in and listening to me in a noisy crowd...but...he's my son.  I love him.  And it's all part of life, I'm learning.  Things not always turning out the way you may have imagined, or the way you may have chosen.  I choose to believe that they're turning out the way that they are supposed to.  Imperfect, but also somehow good, and in line with what God has for me and my family.

Because really, having a child who comes up with the idea to jump on the trampoline with his sister--wearing clothes hampers on their heads--well, it doesn't get much better than that.


Owlhaven said...

HI Brianna,
My oldest bio son would almost certain have been labeled ADHD if we'd put him in school. He was most challenging from ages 3-9 or so, and then gradually he got mature enough to be more self controlled.

Now I don't have enough words to express the delight I find in this boy. He's 18, just graduated from high school-- is witty, kind,hard-working, responsible, and enjoyed by all.

I'm convinced that boys, even more than girls, really take time to mature. Glad you are finding ways to enjoy him as he is-- I'm sure feeling happy with him will get even easier as he matures.
Mary, mom to 10
PS-- Any chance you're going to the adoption conference in Austin in Oct?

Brianna Heldt said...

Oh Mary thank you for the encouragement!!! This was so great to hear. Truly.

Part of me is really wanting to go to the conference! Are you going??? I'd like to, but of course it's expensive. SO I'm thinking about it.

TheLaughingLark said...

Loved this post, you've got a great grasp on what ADHD is and what it's not. I was homeschooled all through high school and for the most part ADD wasn't an issue because of the flexibility and a mom fascinated with finding the best ways I learned. I actually wasn't diagnosed until 21 and I have inattentive type(non-hyperactive) so because I was smart and had flexibility it was never enough of an issue to others around me to figure it out. (and I figured it out before doctors and had an experience with one (not the regular one) that obviously didn't hardly believe in the condition. NOT fun I know!)

In a lot of ways I just can't separate who I am and what I like about me from the irritating things I just can't do the way others expect them to be done, it's not just a problem it's a part of me too. I wish I'd known sooner and I love the way my meds just add a little extra balance, but I think a lot of why I don't have more issues with it is that my childhood taught me a lot of the coping mechanisms I needed automatically. Biniam is ahead of the game, you know what's going on and can give him the confidence that it isn't just a deficit, as well as help him do do some of the training his brain to do things that you nonADHD seem to be able to do without thinking.

Brianna Heldt said...

TheLaughingLark, thank you SO much for sharing! Your words were so, so good to hear. I feel like adults don't really talk much about this. Thank you again so much for your perspective--it is encouraging!

Charla Liedahl said...

I am sorry you had a doctor throw you under the bus. I have had a similar experience and it was one of the worst experiences imaginable. My face is flushed just thinking about it!

Like you with Biniam, I have to remind myself daily that Nolan doesn't fit any mold other than the unique mold God made for him. ADHD and autism are not easy to deal with but keeping the right attitude toward my little boy makes all the difference in the world. It's amazing how perspective can turn a mountain into a molehill. Press on!

Rachel said...

My pediatrician sets apart the first 30 minutes of each day to do consults with parents, kid-free, about concerns. That was very refreshing to hear. I fell like we have conquered a lot of the drama around here, but it's nice to know that he WANTS to talk to me about my kid, just not with her in the room. You may want to consider seeing a different doctor in the office that may have more of an ear for parents.


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