When my son Reid was a toddler, I'd refer to him as my three-foot drunk. Accident prone, he'd bump into walls, trip over his own feet, crash headlong into things. I had his eyes checked for vision problems. When his eye exam showed normal acuity, I had him evaluated by an early interventionist. I speculated that maybe he had an inability to register where his body was in space. After the interventionist completed her assessments she suggested that all Reid needed to do was to slow down.
When Reid was two, he was playing with greeting cards in the top drawer of a nightstand. In a split second, he climbed on the nightstand which sent the bulky television on top careening into our bedroom wall pinning his head underneath. Horrified, my husband scooped him up and I frantically drove to the ER. While waiting to be seen by a doctor, Reid was on the floor playing, seemingly unscathed. The doctor ordered a CT scan only as a precaution since he had not lost consciousness. If not for the close proximity of the nightstand to our bedroom wall, our visit to the ER that night would have been radically different. The television accident made me worry that I would lose my son. I began to worry about him obsessively -- more than the normal "mom worry."
And I had every reason to worry! He would run headlong into a parking lot oblivious to danger no matter how many times we explained what could happen. He was fearless. When he was 2 years old, we installed a 4-foot fence to keep him contained in our backyard. Reid loved to climb on things like tables, counters, our refrigerator and as he got older the roof of my van and up sign poles. Two days after we had our backyard fence installed, Reid climbed it. Nothing seemed to be able to contain him. My husband installed a top lock on our sliding patio door and chain locks on our other doors so Reid could not let himself out of our house. It felt like we were caging a beast in our home. Our toddler!
Since I stayed at home with my children, we went to story time and play dates. We failed miserably at story time. We only went to a few because Reid couldn't sit still, he was always moving. At play dates, Reid would hit other kids and sometimes wouldn't realize it because he'd be running wildly. I always feared that he would hit a kid whose parents weren't understanding. Didn't all kids go through a hitting stage? Reid was a big baby and toddler so I thought he was just super clumsy; he couldn't control his body most of the time.
When Reid went to preschool he spent the entire first week in time out for pushing, not sitting still, and talking when the teacher was talking. My friends and family reassured me that things would get better as he got older. As preschool progressed, Reid grew in maturity but not enough where his teacher felt like he was ready for kindergarten. She recommended he do Alternative Kindergarten (AK) which would allow him an extra year to mature before full day kindergarten. In AK, he had discipline issues, would blurt out when the teacher was talking and he wasn't able to sit still.
Kindergarten too was a struggle. There were frequent emails, notes, and phone calls home. Reid's kindergarten teacher wasn't too concerned. She was a seasoned veteran working with kids like Reid and never gave up. However, for several months my husband and I were vacillating whether or not to medicate Reid. His behavior at home and difficulties at school were enough to see that he was really struggling. We read studies, had the school counselor perform time on task assessments and talked with friends, family and doctors.
Meanwhile the notes, emails and calls home kept coming. Then one thing happened that I'll never forget. His teacher would write out the details of Reid's day like "he's constantly moving," "he bumps into other kids without realizing it," "he can't stay in his own space." And it was one of these notes that changed everything for me. As I read the words, "he just doesn't seem to be able to control it" the light bulb turned on in my mind. The first day Reid took medication for ADHD, his teacher called crying because she had never seen a child react so positively. He didn't run when walking was required. He was polite, waited for his turn. For the first time ever, Reid was in control of his body.
If we had chosen to not medicate, we would never have known the scope of the world inside Reid's head. He was drowning because of his inability to control his body. After medication, we discovered he has a love of numbers, a photographic memory, is thoughtful and has a wicked imagination. None of these things were able to get to the surface because his mind was focused on the extraneous, too consumed with movement, uninhibited. On medication, Reid hasn't had a single phone call home for bad behavior, his test scores have rocketed and next year he'll be in Talented and Gifted.
Reid is the poster child for ADHD medication. We still have daily reminders, when his medicine wears off, of what life used to be like for him. These reminders show us how much his brain is missing the chemicals medication provides. While I worry less about him now, I worry for the kids out there, the risk takers-whose brains lack the components necessary for attention and inhibition who are drowning in ADHD and are in danger because of it. While medication is not for everyone with ADHD, I worry many parents are choosing not to medicate their children based on societal stigma and I know that is where there is real danger.