by Kelly Cleeve
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: December 2018
My son has ADHD. I’ve known, subconsciously, since he was little. At first, I wrote it off as exuberance. He is a happy, lively child. I used to say he was either sprinting or sleeping; there simply was no in between. People would remark that they envied his energy. When he began school, I wondered if his lack of focus was because he has a late birthday. Some of the other kids had been five years old for months and my son was only four when he began kindergarten. Of course he was not as school-ready as they were.
As he grew older, school became a struggle and his self-confidence took a dive. I waited to see if any of his teachers would bring forward the suggestion that he had attention difficulties. They didn’t. Instead, they used words such as “unfocused,” “social,” and even “lazy.” I would sit with him for hours each night, encouraging him as he cried while trying to complete the work he failed to finish that day at school. I supported him with words of affirmation, re-directed his focus to the task at hand and became frustrated when it was too overwhelming for both of us. It was obvious, yet I struggled to admit it. But finally I could no longer deny it. My son has ADHD.
I am a teacher. I can easily spot ADHD in other children and have used the utmost sensitivity to counsel other parents. I have listened to countless parents agonize over the decision to medicate their children and have tried to assure them that everything would be fine. However, when it came to my own child, I was paralyzed. Would my son go through school with a stigma attached to him? Would medicating him change his radiant and energetic personality? I try to keep our diet natural and healthy. We are organic, holistic and I rarely even dole out an aspirin. Now I need to feed him three pills per day? The choice was uncomfortable, to say the least.
I lost many nights of sleep, contemplating our options. Then, by chance, I attended a professional development seminar educating teachers about ADHD. The speaker, himself, has an ADHD brain. He was undiagnosed and un-medicated until his 30s. He claims that Ritalin saved him. He described his impulsive ADHD behaviour and said that it felt as if he were failing 100 times per day. His friends would be frustrated. His teachers, exhausted. His parents, exasperated. Imagine living each day knowing that your behaviour is irritating to those around you, is causing you to fail, wishing you could improve, but knowing that you cannot control it.
I flashed back to a student, who was in my class several years ago. He had a fairly severe case of ADHD. I had spent many hours teaching him strategies that would help him focus. Some days (moments) those strategies were successful and some days (moments) they were not. Halfway through the year, his parents decided to try medication. One day, after several weeks into the trial, he exclaimed, “Ms. Cleeve! I love my pills!” When I asked him why, he remarked that he “didn’t suck at everything anymore.” It broke my heart to know that was how he previously felt and simultaneously warmed my heart to know that he was now finding success.
I decided to give medication a try, but first, sat down with my son to explain the situation. I told him that having an ADHD brain is like having a super power. His brain takes in way more information than the average person. He is able to perceive many things around him that the rest of us may not even notice: sounds, lights, shadows, textures. All of this information actually makes him smarter than most! The problem is that his brain becomes overwhelmed with this barrage of sensory information and cannot decide what is important to focus on. The medication would help him to do just that.
I am happy to report that my son is now thriving. The medication has not robbed him of his vivacious appetite for life, but has simply helped him find a sense of calm, when he needs to. He is responsible, helpful and is no longer failing all of his classes. For the first time ever, he enjoys school. His self-esteem has skyrocketed.
I was worried that he may feel embarrassed or labelled by his ADHD. However, recently, he was watching a movie with his best friend and a character made a comment about ADHD. My son replied excitedly, “Hey! That’s what I have!” and his best friend answered, “Cool!” I breathed a sigh of relief and acceptance.
When my son becomes older, the choice to continue taking his medication will fall to him. I will support him no matter what he decides. However, in this moment, watching him excel, I feel confident that I made the right choice.
Kelly Cleeve is a passionate educator with 14 years experience. She is a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, a wife and a mother of 2 beautiful boys.
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