My now 14-year-old son was diagnosed with (high-functioning) ADHD at the tender age of 6. Soon after, he was given a back-up diagnosis of ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) – yes, that’s an honest-to-God psychological diagnosis. He also has Aspergers symptoms (though not the diagnosis) such as lack of a verbal filter, literal interpretation, delayed social and emotional reciprocity. I made the tough decision when he was 7 to put him on medication. What followed was 6 years of anxiety-ridden trial & error medicating in an attempt to control the symptoms of his mental, behavioral and social issues, and frequent insomnia. Under the care of several different psychiatrists (and one neurologist), we tried combinations of drugs such as Vyvanse, Focalin XR, Concerta, Strattera, Tryleptal (don’t remember why this one – it made him psychotic & we quickly took him off it), Respiridone, and Clonidine.
Even with the RX, there would be meltdowns at school and home – trouble focusing, staying still, sometimes violent outbursts against others or himself (biting himself, sometimes to the point of drawing blood). The school district tested him again and the decision was made to put him on a 504 Accommodation Plan. Up until 5th grade his grades were mostly As & Bs. Then pre-adolescence set in and I moved him from his K-5 school (where he’d been since Kindergarten) to a K-8 charter school. To make a very long story short, 6 weeks into 6th grade, they couldn’t handle his meltdowns and the principal told me I’d have to withdraw him if he had another one. I later found out she didn’t have that authority, since charter schools are still public, but we (i.e. my mother) home schooled him for the rest of the year, anyway. For 7th and 8th grades, I put him back in regular public school. Halfway through 7th grade (early 2014), I made the decision to take him off ADHD RX. And we discovered there’s NO marked difference between Hayden ON RX and Hayden OFF RX. Now we stick with thrice-monthly therapy, melatonin for the insomnia, once or twice monthly therapy for me, and continue to work on behavioral and social improvements.
At the tail-end of last school year, the district finally gave in to my demands for updated testing, and upgraded him to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), based on his behavioral/social challenges. Now we’re nearing the end of the 3rd quarter of 8th grade and my current worry is whether he’ll pass or fail. Since 6th grade, his grades have been mostly Cs (which would be fine, if I knew that’s all he’s capable of), and he’s failing math and science, previously two of his better subjects. I won’t go into all the parent-teacher conferences, ESE meetings, and numerous calls to the school reminding them to send home missed assignments so we can complete them in a more (relatively) laid-back environment and pull his grades up so he can go onto high school with the rest of his peers. I’m looking into private schools, and pray if that turns out to be the best thing for him, a miracle will happen to help me afford the tuition, most of which average about half my annual (gross) income.
There ARE signs of maturity: fewer meltdowns and violent outbursts. Now it’s mouthiness – a typical teenage/adolescent issue, obsession with having the last word in any disagreement
(also a teenage issue?), frequent anxiety (usually school-related), migraines and stomach pains (which might have to do with food preservatives and his love of junk food – healthier eating is a continual work in progress), and more frequent Aspergers symptoms. All this leading to frequent (verbal) confrontations with fellow students, teachers, and administrative staff at school, which in turn lead to “referrals” (detentions and/or suspensions). He spends at least a few hours each school day in the ESE Support office, which usually helps him de-stress, finish classroom assignments, and stay out of MORE trouble.
I often feel ill-equipped as a single parent to support and sympathize with my boyo. I find myself resenting his father for leaving us (that’s a whole other story, but suffice to say, it’s probably better he’s rarely in Hayden’s life, since his idea of “parenting” is being a friend rather than parent), since I’m frequently forced to lean upon my mother for support and assistance, when she should be enjoying being a grandparent and all that goes with it, instead of having to serve as back-up caregiver and disciplinarian. I myself struggle with anxiety and depression, adult ADHD and OCD (what a pair we are!). I’ve been on a low-dose anti-depression/anxiety RX for several years. Having gone without it a time or three, I’m thankful for it, as I like the slightly medicated Wendy better than the non-medicated Wendy. I used to believe – many, many moons ago, before I left home to expand my educational and social horizons – that the Christian foundation (prayer, spiritual support system, etc) upon which I was raised, is ALL you need, and can cure ALL ills. And maybe it can, or maybe it’s enough for some. For the rest of us, while we ARE more stable with and depend upon that foundation, we’ve discovered that we often need professional assistance in addition to the spiritual. And humor – definitely need my wacky sense of humor. 😉
Some of my own mental health issues probably stem more from a single act of molestation as a young child (which I’ve rarely spoken about publicly) rather than “inherited” from my child. Ironically, it’s my own therapy and learning more about fellow writers’ experiences with trauma and mental health issues that have led me to understand more about my own and my son’s mental health challenges, and strategies to cope and live with said issues. And for that, I’m very grateful.