I was 15 weeks pregnant and still battling “all day sickness.” My husband had left on Monday morning on a school trip half-way across the country and wouldn’t be back until Friday, which left me with my two young sons whom I could barely care for by myself between the nausea, exhaustion and moaning on the couch. At least the older one went to school every day and the younger one was at home with a babysitter while I trekked two miles round-trip to language classes each morning.
Walking home from class on Wednesday, I had to stop in the park to lose my lunch. As I dragged myself to a park bench to lay down (because lying on the sidewalk, however good it might feel, would probably draw too much attention to myself), I noticed I had a missed call from the principal of my son’s school. Returning the call confirmed my fears: my five year old needed to stay home from school for the remainder of the year due to behavior problems.
“Fantastic.” I thought as I lay half-alive on the bench, “I’m sick as a dog, have no idea how I’m going to get home, my husband is away and my kid just got kicked out of school.”
“It is Special Education week & Autism & ADHD Awareness month – This is in honor of all children who struggle every day” a friend posted on Facebook sometime during September.
I’m aware. All too aware. But I wasn’t until ADHD showed up in my own home. Until then, I was really unaware and might have even fallen into the category of people who think ADHD is an over diagnosed, over-medicated phenomenon of the last 20 years.
My son was never the easy kid. At the age of 18 months he once bit 3 people in the daycare room of a conference we were attending within the time span of 3 hours. At 16 months, he used to get so aggravated at being told “no” he would run and bang his head on the walls of our apartment that were, unfortunately for him, made of concrete. He hit playmates in the face from the time he could walk. “Play dates” were avoided because my kid wouldn’t play with others, he’d just attack them and we’d both leave frustrated. We really didn’t know what to do with him. I was sick of parenting books and advice because nothing worked.
After an entire year at Chinese preschool when he was 4, I found out there was an on-line group of moms whose discussion at times centered on my kid hitting other kids. “He’s a boy” I was told by well-meaning others. “He’ll grow out of it.” Then, at the age of 5, his Junior Kindergarten year was wrapped up with him having to stay home from the last 2 weeks of school for his poor behavior.
It wasn’t just the hitting. He had a temper and a wild streak that could combust into a non-stop 30 minute screaming fiasco that just had to run its course once started. You can only imagine how this all affected our family. My patient and understanding husband became the bomb diffuser during our son’s tantrums, and more than a few times I just had to leave because the whole thing made me so angry.
After a special needs consultant observed our son at school, she suggested he get a formal special needs evaluation done, even suggesting he may have high-functioning autism. We always knew he was hard to manage, but autism? What would we do with that? We live in China. How would we find help for him here?
Fortunately, we were able to return to America for the summer and concentrate on getting the help we needed. After a four-hour educational evaluation and personal interview by a child psychologist, we were told our son is definitely not autistic, but probably has ADHD. We had a few additional hours with the psychologist to follow-up, which at the time didn’t seem like much, but have actually helped us all immensely!
Next we were off to the pediatrician’s office which seemed scary because we weren’t quite ready to medicate for ADHD, but something had to give. The pediatrician first recommended our son attend behavioral therapy once a week (no can do in China, doc). He also tested for other things, like lead poisoning, just to rule out other possibilities that could be causing our son’s impulsiveness.
“I’m not so concerned with the hyperactivity,” said the doc, “but the impulsivity is more alarming.”
He hit it on the nail. We don’t want our son to magically stop wiggling in his seat or running around enjoying life because we’re tired out by his endless energy. We just want him to be able to think before he hits his brother or classmates in the face or go on a 30 minute tirade any time he’s the least bit agitated.
“I don’t want to medicate him unless he’s burning cats,” the doc continued, “but you could try giving him coffee.”
“Coffee?” we stared blankly in return.
“Yes. Get him to drink it so black and thick you could balance a coin on it. He needs the caffeine,” replied the doc.
Even though you can Google “ADHD kid drinks coffee” and get a ton of different opinions, we’ve seen it work wonders for our child. Caffeine is a stimulant, like meds commonly given to ADHD kids, and for some reason works in reverse for them. Instead of cranking him up, caffeine actually calms him down and helps him focus and process the world around him at a pace that allows him to react to things in a much healthier way.
All this has brought me new empathy for families dealing with ADHD who, like us, didn’t even know it. Had it not been for professionals at school raising a concern, we would probably still be on the previous path of confusion, blaming ourselves for our son’s problems. We haven’t arrived and the journey ahead will definitely have its ups and downs, but we’re celebrating this new discovery and enjoying a time of peace and deepening in our family relationships. Thank you, Jesus, for caffeine!
Have you ever had an answer to prayer come from a most unlikely source? Moms, how has parenting overseas stretched you?