Where the Occupational Therapy helped Steven a little, it wasn’t enough and he started pulling away from both family and classmates. He was either aggressive or inconsolably contrite, and neither were sustainable. Feeling helpless and that we had no other recourse, we turned to meds looking for some panacea, some remedy, some fix for our child who seemed to be slipping from our grasp.
We went through several variations and multiple strengths of ADHD drugs: 2.5 mg, 5mg, and time release capsules. We tried Adderall, Ritalin and maybe more (this was in the early 2000’s). I needed to keep a diary of his reactions and emotional status because it seemed like he changed all the time. The daily medication did work for the short duration of pre-school, but the subsequent crash could be wicked. And every time Steven grew we had to adjust his dose or try a different drug.
We called them his “Focus Pills” and made sure that Steven took them every morning. I felt so torn giving my son amphetamines. What kind of mother was I? And did they really “work” during school or did they just turn him into a compliant zombie?
Whatever they did, functionally it was better for him, for his classmates, and for the teachers. In fact, if I ever asked him if he wanted to experiment and skip a day, he’d say ‘no’. The aggression just sort of floated out of his life. He became quietly present. Bumps and jostles, rule bending, bossy classmates – nothing bothered him anymore.
The best was that Steven was able to participate in activities. His brilliant mind was not shut down. It was just the emotional cage that had grown up around him fell to the side, allowing the real Steven to come out for a period of time every day. To assuage my guilt, I hung on to the belief that it was helping him get through the day.
We even discontinued his weekly occupational therapy sessions because the therapist couldn’t get a rise out of him anymore. The reason for going, helping him cope with his emotions, was gone.
But coming off the dose was horrible to watch. We called it his “crash and burn” cycle. Ultimately, it was the crashing that led us to the decision to try to go without meds again. I also hated the side effect of hunger suppression and wasn’t upset at having him get back a healthy appetite. How do you handle a growing child who isn’t hungry? I also hoped that being older miraculously may have given him the ability to cope better. I wondered if having created a pattern of positive behavior at school while under the influence of the medicine would help him continue the pattern without the meds.
I still was under the illusion that there was something to fix and that I could measure my son against a normalized group. I was so very wrong.