Another Untold Story

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?  


  1. Rebecca February 1, 2017

    Thanks for sharing. My “impulsive” son is now 17 and I thought I would not survive baby, toddler or early school years. The first time he came back and apologized for his behavior I’m pretty sure I cried. And yes…he has coffee everyday and has since he was very young. He was my fourth and thought I had parenting down…thinking of you.

    1. M'Lynn February 1, 2017

      “He was my fourth and I thought I had parenting down” Hehe…Oh, my! I’ve heard this from quite a few people…They had three easy kids (wait…Is there really any such thing as an easy kid??) But my husband and I were blessed early on with the realization that we couldn’t do this parenting thing at all without God’s help every single day! I wouldn’t trade that early realization, but I would trade a few of the hardest days! Thankfully God knows what’s best for me and gave me the hard days along with the good ones…And hooray for coffee (for my son and for me!!!)

  2. elizabeth February 1, 2017

    Wow! This could be a description of our third-born son. Diagnosed with ADHD shortly after his sixth birthday, he is shortly turning thirteen. It’s tough, really tough and these days there seem to be more downs than ups.. Yes, parenting overseas has stretched me. I feel isolated and tired, but with this son I think I would be stretched wherever we were! Thanks for sharing your story, it is a comfort to know we’re not the only ones!

    1. M'Lynn February 1, 2017

      Thanks to you as well…So I know I’m not alone in this! My son is a couple years older now and we’ve learned so much about him through this. He’s a fun, kinda quirky kid who needs to be seen and heard (but oh my goodness it can be hard when he’s out of bed for the thirteenth time in one evening and even the last resort of melatonin isn’t helping…) But it’s helpful for me to acknowledge who he is and how he’s wired and instead of asking him to conform to the preestablished norms, my husband and I try to make room to accommodate him…Like knowing he’s gonna have trouble the first night in a new place, knowing he can’t stand loud noises or large crowds (um…Yeah…We lived in China most of his life…) Knowing his bedtime routine must be done the same way every single night… Thankfully maturity is coming with age, but I’m figuring that with maturity also comes new struggles (eek…)

  3. Rebecca Rivetto February 1, 2017

    It encouraged me to hear that I’m not alone in living overseas with similar parenting experiences. M’Lynn, after giving him coffee did it help with school? Any advice in this area? I’ve been living in Southern Peru for a year and a half and my middle son who is 9 and has ADHD has really struggled. He still doesn’t know any Spanish. We tried putting him in school and it did not go well. We then had to pull him out. However that made it worse for his Spanish learning and I have a son with severe autism. It is difficult to homeschool both of them, who are very easily distracted and use different curriculums, at the same time.

    1. M'Lynn February 1, 2017

      I’m not qualified to give medical advice (obviously…Haha) but I can tell you that my son was 5 when we started caffeine and I noticed a huge difference in his attitude within 2 weeks. The kid who used to scream “I can’t do it! I’ll never learn!!” began saying “I can practice and get better!” I was dumbfounded. And that’s why I bravely tell this story… because we were struggling so much and it was so hard. Finding out that it was indeed something and not just my bad parenting was breakthrough number one, caffeine was breakthrough number two. He’s a couple years older now and continues to blow me away with his maturity. As for language learning, I had to come to the point with him where I decided I’d rather have a happy, well rounded kid than a bilingual kid…I know some families get both, but for us it was clearly one or the other. He still studied Chinese, but International school with classes in English was the best fit for him. Sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate. I’m lifting you up and hope you will find a solution that’s best for YOUR family 🙂 and…Hey…Try coffee (or straight caffeine but not sugary soda) and see if it helps. If not, well…Now you know!

  4. Darcie February 2, 2017

    We should all start an online support system.
    My 9yr old daughter has ADHD/ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) as well as impulsivity and anxiety concerns. She was unofficially diagnosed just before she turned 7 by a doctor who was working with our organization in China. She started medication. A month after her 8th birthday we took her for an official diagnosis as she was still quite a handful. The testing showed that she is clinically ADHD/ODD. The doctor had not seen someone with such severe ADHD ever. She is now on 2 daily medications as well as melatonin since she can not calm herself to go to sleep.
    She attends local Chinese school and is doing ok. She learns slowly, but she is learning. She speaks as good as a native Chinese person and has been mistaken for a local! She can also read/write Chinese and prefers that over English. She is in grade 3 now.
    I can handle the ADHD, it’s the ODD and impulsiveness that are hard. It is getting better as she matures.
    Her twin has none of these issues.

  5. Elizabeth February 7, 2017

    It is so awesome that you didn’t have to try the heavier-duty prescription meds. So thankful for a doc willing to work with you!

    And bravo to you for sharing this difficult story.

  6. Hadia June 30, 2022

    I and two of my sisters also have ADHD (so, 3 of the six of us), but we weren’t diagnosed until adulthood. Our parents were neurotypical (we got it from our grandparents, I guess) and had no idea what was going on with us–thought we were just lazy, impulsive, rebellious, selective in hearing, etc. That created an entirely different set of emotional issues for all of us in the family!! Praise God that your son was diagnosed early and can get the help and understanding he needs from an early age. And yes… coffee is a lifesaver for me too! 🙂

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