HOMESCHOOLING MY A.D.D. SON WITHOUT DRUGS
AN AMAZING PERSONAL TESTIMONY of ONE FAMILYíS EXPERIENCE WITH ADD
WRITTEN BY A WONDERFUL HS MOM OF THREE BOYS, DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA
© copyright June 2005
Well the one great thing about our ordeal, is that it was the catalyst which helped us make the decision to home school!
The decision to medicate him was initiated because the teachers at my older son's school had picked up some 'problems' with his learning when he was in Grade 1.† We'd often been called to one side by his teachers saying that they felt he may be a gifted child, but they were concerned because there was a huge disparity between what they could see he was capable of on a verbal level, and what he was putting down on paper. (The irony of this is that this same child who is now 14 is a researcher and documenter of note, with no problems putting anything down on paper!† He spends hours of his own volition doing his home schooling, and has copious files and notes!! So, it confirms the thinking that all of us are individuals, and itís crazy to expect everyone to be at the same level at the same time!)† Anyway, we as parents were obviously immediately concerned and complied with their suggestions to have him assessed.† Of course, he was diagnosed as ADD, but the passive type, the dreamer. And of course, Ritalin was suggested.† We were completely against the idea, and continued as we were.† However the pressure from the teachers increased, and eventually we relented and gave him a trial run.† In the meantime, I researched the drug extensively, and fully understood its actions as laid down by the 'experts', who asserted that the side effects were temporary etc etc.† His written work did improve, and his concentration was amazing - but we noticed little niggly things, like, he seemed more emotional, he seemed more withdrawn, and from being very social and popular in his quiet way, he suddenly started experiencing problems with friends.† They switched from being friends to picking on him.† This all happened over a period of time, and so we didn't initially put it down to the Ritalin.† BUT, we still just didn't feel happy with him being on a drug, just to help him perform better academically, particularly when we knew he was a naturally bright child. So, after careful thought and lots of prayer, we took him off again.
He did struggle with poor concentration, and was easily distracted (especially by what was going on outside the classroom window, according to all his teachers)† This boy just wanted to explore his environment like any normal 8 year old, not be cooped up inside 4 boring brick walls, albeit covered with colourful posters of 'wildlife'. The real thing was outside!! One of the teachers told me that during a language class she had noticed him staring out of the window AGAIN for the entire class, and after the class she went up to him and asked him what he had got out of the class that day! He turned to her, and said he had learned that the Fiscal Shrike (a local bird) always returns back to his original position in the tree after making a dive for any insects he was after!† This boy, in his spare time, had read through the entire Newman's Bird Book, and was able to give the names of most of the birds, as well as their breeding habits in some cases!!† But, because his particular interests and passions weren't accommodated by the school at that time, he was seen as a child who had 'potential learning problems'
Anyway, it was now a few months away from my second son starting Grade 1, and after all my research into ADD/ADHD, I saw all the signs and symptoms already present and evident in him.† This is a livewire of note!† Very confident, assertive, outspoken, interrupts continually, didn't seem to learn from experience, impulsive in the extreme. Before the teachers of his preschool even called me in, I knew what was coming!!† They had picked up an extreme reluctance to do any kind of formal exercise - he just wanted to be outside all the time, playing! We decided to go the assessment route again, rather than just take one teacher's opinion. We ended up going to 3 different educational psychologists, one paediatrician, and one occupational therapist. (yes, we got completely caught up in the whole insidious cycle!!)† Each one of them assessed him, and came to the same conclusion.† Severely ADD, with Impulsivity, but not necessarily hyperactivity.† They all felt we would be doing him a disservice if we didn't put him on Ritalin immediately.† The thinking was, that he would start feeling inadequate and his self-esteem would take a dive, because he wouldn't be able to apply himself to the work.† Even though, through all their testings, this child had an IQ that places him in the top 2% of the population. Once again, the thinking was, that his obvious intelligence would make him acutely aware that he was 'different' and could cause major self esteem problems.†
With that in mind, we trusted the 'experts', and obviously didn't want to be responsible for causing any long-term damage to our child.† We put him on a course of Ritalin as he started Grade 1.† We gave the medicine to him just has he left the house, and it wore off after 4 hours, so we didn't get an opportunity to see him on the medication - but the feedback from the teacher was glowing.† In her words, a wonderfully obedient, exceptionally bright child with impeccable behaviour!!!† This was not the rather wild exuberant Jake I knew!† In fact, on more than one occasion, she used him as the role model for how everyone else in the class should behave (A highly questionable tactic as far as I'm concerned - doesn't benefit the child who becomes a potential target for bullying, and certainly doesn't benefit the rest who all feel substandard!)
He took a long time to settle at school, and we just weren't sure if it was simply adjusting to 'big' school, or if the medication were the culprit.† He complained of having no friends, and just walking around the playground by himself at break times.† this broke my heart, and astounded me - because the one area where he had always shone, was socially.† Once again, I thought it might be due to the fact that 95% of the kids in his class had come from the same preschool, which was not the one he'd been to - so perhaps he was just struggling to break into existing cliques?
Worst of all for me, was his deteriorating behaviour at home.† He became very aggressive, confrontational and threw some impressive tantrums when he couldn't get what he wanted, when he wanted it.† He provoked his two brothers continually, and seemed to take delight in reducing his little brother to tears as often as possible. He became sly and devious - constantly concocting ways to get away with things he knew he wasn't allowed to do. In hindsight, I wonder why I didn't realise his behavioural changes were linked to the Ritalin - but because it happened gradually - I assumed he was going through a stage. His impulsivity was worse than ever, and he just seemed to be making bad choices continually - and therefore getting into trouble all the time. Eventually I went back to the paediatrician who was 'monitoring' his medication (a complete misnomer - all they do is rely on YOU to give THEM info on where he's at) He suggested that Jake was suffering from an effect called 'rebound' - which is where the ADD symptoms become more intense as the child is coming off the medication each day! He suggested we put him on a longer acting dose - so that the rebound effect would be limited only to the late afternoon and into the evening.† We did this, but did our evenings become a nightmare!!† It got to a point where our entire family started becoming unravelled.† As much as we knew we loved Jake - he was incredibly difficult to live with.† He opposed us at every turn, maliciously went out of his way to antagonise his brothers, became destructive with the things in our home, and devised more and more ways to get away with doing what he knew were naughty things. I eventually gave up on trying to do homework with him, because he was just so uncompliant and defiant - and I just couldn't handle his tantrums anymore. Our home was never peaceful, and my husband and I felt exhausted. After a year and a half of this - I felt like I was drowning. I had family, friends, acquaintances and even just people in the supermarket sometimes - giving me advice on this uncontrollable child.† I began to dread going to people's homes, to public places - or even having people in our home - because I knew I would end up at the wrong end of someone's well-meaning, but ultimately hurtful advice. Things like "You've got to let him know who's boss" "You can't just allow that kind of behaviour" "Can you please control Jake, he's hurt my Susie" "Have you just tried giving him a good smack?" Only when you've been in the position of trying every parenting technique known to the modern world - with no results - can you understand how hurtful those kinds of comments are. It kind of makes out as though you're just incredibly slack, wishy-washy parents who obviously just have no inkling of how to be a parent.† Nobody bothered to look at our other two boys, who were both well-adjusted, well-behaved, compliant and caring little boys.†
All the while, he was doing exceptionally well at school. So well, that they wanted him to skip a grade.† He was obsessed with his appearance at school, and was forever tucking his shirt neatly into his pants, and ensuring his socks were even.† His cap had to be just so, and his tie just the right length. He received certificates for good behaviour, merits for obedience etc etc - it was a joke.
Another more disturbing phenomenon started happening.† Jake started to develop fears. These increased from simply being scared of the dark at night, until he became afraid to walk out of our front door.† He was afraid of anything that flew, like bees or dragonflies. He would start trembling from head to toe - and end up in inconsolable tears. He was afraid to swim in the sea, and afraid to ride his bike. He started coming through to our room every night, absolutely terrified.† He often couldn't verbalise what he was afraid of, but it was very obvious that these were deep-seated fears and they had a real grip on his life.
At the end of his grade two year - he caught a viral pneumonia, which made him critically ill - and he had to be hospitalised for over a week with some pretty heavy-duty antibiotics.† The paediatrician said we should take him off the Ritalin for this period, which I was dreading, because I thought, how on earth are they going to keep him in a hospital bed for a week when he's off the medication - and that he would probably cause problems for the other kids in the ward.† But we did it - and this was our huge breakthrough ...
Overnight, our old Jake returned.† From being sullen, sulky and defiant - he became the friendly, still active, but happy little boy I remembered from two years ago.† To hear him laughing brought tears to my eyes - and to see him interacting with everyone in that hospital with his old charming ways gave me a thrill. Even though he was so sick - I was overjoyed to see him happy and 'whole'.
He recuperated at home for another 4 weeks, and I refused to put him back on the medication during that time.† We took him to the beach, and he was exuberant, but not defiant. He leapt into the sea he had previously been so afraid of, with gusto and squeals of delight. His fears disappeared overnight.† I still remember the day we brought him home from the hospital, he ran across to my herb garden, and yelled for me to come and have a look at the bees around the flowers ... close up!† It seemed he had no recall of his prior fears as he watched them busy pollinating my herbs with fascination!
We knew we would never put him back on the medication after this.† I took him back to the paediatrician, and explained everything that had happened, and without hesitating, he said we needed to ensure we had taken him off the Ritalin, and that we would never administer it to him again.† He said Jake was displaying signs of depression as a result of Ritalin, and that if we ever put him on it again - we ran the risk of him becoming a manic-depressive as an adult!
In my limited knowledge, this says one thing - that Ritalin DOES mess with the chemical balance in our brains/neural system - and obviously not enough is known about its long-term effects at this stage.
Now, we had the greatest hurdle of all ... how was he going to function at school?† Well, he started his Grade 3 year drug free - and I was called in at the beginning of his second day there!!!
He was being disruptive, he couldn't settle, he couldn't focus, he kept losing his pencil, and he couldn't sit in his seat for more than 10 minutes! The teachers were astounded that this was the same well-behaved, meek little boy they remembered from the previous year!† BUT, when we asked Jake how his first few days at school had been - he exclaimed he'd had such fun!† He'd played with all his friends on the playground - he wanted to do ALL the extra-murals and could he please have some friends over at our house to play!† When I questioned him more about the classroom - he didn't really want to comment. He thinks he got into trouble, and he 'can't do the work' was the most I could get out of him. We decided to persevere, working closely with the teacher, who was by now aware of the 'problem'.† After a month, we could see the situation was getting worse, not better.† He started coming home, and saying that he was 'useless' and none of the other boys want him on their team when they're doing teamwork in the class because 'he sucks'. His self-esteem was taking a nosedive, as he complained that he hated schoolwork, he's just not good at it.† As we would tuck him in at night, he would often cry about how bad it was for him in the classroom. He kept getting into trouble because his work was so messy and untidy, and he kept losing things. He got into trouble for his untidy appearance - his shirt was always hanging out, and his socks just wouldn't stay up.
During this time, we tried a whole lot of naturopathic and herbal remedies for Jake - but the very most they seemed to do was to take the edge off of his exuberance - but absolutely no change took place with his ability to concentrate and work without being distracted.
After 2,5 months of this, my husband and I realised that the schools and the 'professionals' were actually at a loss as to what to do with our boy.† At this point, we realised that we had handed over our God-given authority in this boy's life to too many people - and we needed to take it back.† We went and got him independently assessed for our own benefit, not because anyone had told us to - and we got him tested in all areas.† The results were interesting.† Academically he scored 4 chronological years ahead of his age in virtually all the areas (math, language etc) and all other areas were good.† But, the tester kept asserting, that we needed to be aware, that these results were in a one-on-one situation - and she emphasised that if there had been other children in the room, we probably could have halved his scores.† She said she noticed that he distracted himself continually, and she had to keep bringing his attention back to the task.
At this point, the penny dropped for me.† As daunted as I was by the idea, I began to realise that in order to provide an optimum learning environment for this little guy - I would have to provide him with a one-on-one scenario - home schooling. Actually there was one scripture in the bible that really helped me to make the decision.† It is from Romans 12:2 and says "Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and you will know God's perfect and pleasing will" I realised that, even as a non-conformist, I had conformed to the patterns of education that everyone just went with.† We needed transformation in a big way for our family, and we really wanted to know what God's will was for Jake.
After more careful thought, and finding out loads of info on the idea through books and friends who were home schooling - we felt it was the right step.† We took him out of school April last year, and I spent a couple of months deschooling him first, which was critical for healing our rather damaged relationship.
It was as though he had been miraculously healed from his disorder. He just thrived in the home, with my full attention (very important to him, more so than my other boys), and after a while I started introducing schoolwork.† He has really done well. He is still a real challenge to teach, because he is so busy, and he does battle to concentrate for periods longer than about 15 minutes.† But the beauty is that within the home schooling environment, we can be flexible - and we can find what works with him. I do have my days, when I want to just dust off the uniform and send him back, but I only have to think of the sad little boy I remember from that time, and I count to ten and try to think of another way!!† I'm getting quite good at being creative!! Ultimately he would rather be playing and socialising 24 hours a day if he had the choice, than ever doing any work.† He is extremely relational.† We've got him involved in a speech and drama organisation, and he landed the lead role of the very first play he auditioned for!† He loves being the centre of attention - and the stage is where his heart lies!!† (Basically he's just a little show-off!) His self-esteem is healthy - and the best part of all, is to watch the relationships with his brothers.† They get on famously (we've brought them all home now - it worked so well with Jake, it just made sense) and I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear them laughing together.
He has not been on any kind of medication (even natural remedies) for over a year now, and we are happy to keep it that way.† Even though he is still not an easy child to parent (he is still very impulsive, still interrupts incessantly, still reacts when he can't get his own way, still makes bad choices) I would rather deal with him the way God made him, than wonder if I'm dealing with chemically induced behaviour, any day!
Anyway, that's my really long story - I'm sure you had to read it in instalments - and if you managed to read it all the way through, you're more patient than I am!!
I really hope it encourages you in some small way - I really believe that a lot of what we go through with children like these, is seasonal, and sometimes it really does require just 'hanging in' and trying to be consistent through the season - and you do come out the other end intact.
* Names have been changed to protect identities