6

Finally Finding Focus: Our ADHD Story

ADHD educationI didn’t use to believe in medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Truth be told, I didn’t used to believe in ADHD at all. Nobody was ever diagnosed with it when I was a kid back in the 1970s. Now, it seems to be everywhere. “Perhaps as many as two million American kids” now suffer from it, and “on the average, at least one child in every classroom in the U.S. needs help with the disorder,” according to current estimates.

My mom and I talked about ADHD when it first started appearing in major news reports. “This is ridiculous,” she asserted. “If this had been around when you were younger, you would have been diagnosed with it. But you were fine.” (Hmm.) “Yeah, ridiculous!” I agreed, somewhat over-emphatically.

Given my scoffing skepticism, perhaps it was cosmic justice that my eldest child ultimately received a diagnosis of ADHD. Kindergarten schoolwork hit us like the proverbial ton of bricks. First, I yelled and screamed and fought with my daughter. Not my finest hour.  Then, I yelled and screamed and fought with various school and medical officials to get help for our daughter, who found reading, writing and arithmetic to be so terribly difficult. We obtained preferential seating and extra time on tests, we hired tutors, and I worked for hours with my daughter teaching her in the way she could best learn. Other parents skipped these “behavioral management techniques” and went straight to a medication regimen, but we persevered without it.

When my daughter began middle school, we realized behavioral management wasn’t enough. “We’re going to have her evaluated for medication,” my husband Manny and I informed the school’s vice-principal. “Good,” the vice-principal responded immediately. Still, I wondered and worried. The first doctor we saw was a stuffed-shirt know-it-all who spoke less than 5 words to my daughter and determined that he couldn’t help her because her grades were adequate. “See you in six months,” he said. Outraged, my husband and I nicknamed him Dr. Grossbutt, and ratted him out to our pediatricians, who had referred us to him.

The second doctor talked to our daughter and to us for a long time before asking why the schools hadn’t given my daughter more help sooner. The doctor recommended starting medication without telling the school, so that the teachers could continue to make unbiased evaluations of her school performance. The first dosage didn’t have much effect, so we raised it a bit. Then our daughter started noticing things getting easier for her. She mentioned that her grades were improving, and her expectations for herself became higher.

At the next parent-teacher conference, the social studies teacher came up to me and said, “That medication you’re giving your daughter is really helping.” I launched into a long explanation of why I could neither confirm nor deny that she was on medication, because it was important for the teachers to make an unbiased assessment. The teacher leaned in closer to me, completely ignoring my convoluted disclaimer, and said, “Well, it’s really working!” When we received our daughter’s report card, her grades in most subjects had gone up by one full letter grade since the first marking period.

I became completely convinced that ADHD existed, and that the medication was no myth either. “Boy, you’ve really changed your tune!” my sister-in-law commented. “I’m living with it,” I answered. Regardless of whether doctors over-diagnose ADD or over-medicate kids as a general matter, I’m convinced that the diagnosis and the medication are helping my daughter. And thank God for that.

Readers: Does anyone in your family have ADHD? What’s your strategy for coping with it?
This article originally appeared on Can We Cana and is used with permission.


Karee Santos is the founder of the Can We Cana? blog and also has written for Catholic Match Institute, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and CatholicMom.com. Together with her husband Manuel Santos, M.D., she co-authored The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime (Ave Maria Press, 2016). The Santos’s designed and taught a pre-Cana marriage preparation course, and they write a monthly marriage advice column on CatholicMom.com called “Marriage Rx.” They also contribute to FAITH magazine's “Your Marriage Matters” advice column. The couple live in Long Island, New York, with their six children.
Filed under: » »
  • Subvet

    My two boys, aged 9 & 8, were recently diagnosed with ADHD along with some other developmental problems. Our youngest is taking meds and the improvement has been noted by all. We weren’t able to keep it secret from the teachers due to the possible behavioral side effects, fortunately none have surfaced so far. Our oldest will soon be taking whatever is prescribed.
    I’ve the advantage(?) of being an older father so I remember the absence of this sort of thing back in the 60’s. IMO while there may be abuses and over diagnosing, the recognition of this disorder is a real blessing.Just my two cents.

    • Karee Santos

      Thanks, and God bless you and your family in your struggles.

  • IntellectGetOne

    It is very difficult to be a parent. Let me get that out of the way. I honor the sacrifice of you and your husband. I’ve been through difficult times raising my own children. Often times I wished I had a drug I could have given them to change their bad patterns.

    However, I need to point out that you are measuring the “success” of these drugs (and your child on these drugs) by using the measuring stick of “good grades” and “positive teacher comments.” Perhaps as a side-benefit, there is an additional benefit of reduced stress at home and less yelling/fighting.

    This seems upside-down and backwards. The drugs help a student focus. The student takes the drugs and focuses. Ergo, the drugs must be good.

    You see the fallacy here? It presumes that giving drugs to overcome your child’s challenges is acceptable.

    Let me point you to another drug that does EXACTLY what it intends to do.

    Almost every user of cocaine will tell you, without fail, that their cocaine use helps them focus and do things better than they could do without the drug.

    Every. Single. One.

    Of course! The drug has that impact on the human brain! What did they expect?

    Consider the story of Todd Marinovich — whose father measured “success” not by grades or teacher but as performance on the football field.

    That young man EXCEEDED every measure of success on the football field BECAUSE everything he did, including taking cocaine, was specifically designed to help him on the field. He had some natural talent. He had a great personality. But that was not enough. With the drugs he could “do more” (which sounds exactly like “get higher grades”.)

    Is this really the measure you want to use for your child?

    • Karee Santos

      I respect your viewpoint. I have struggled with similar thoughts. There are many things in which I am not an expert, but I am an expert in my daughter. I have seen that her struggles are not like other people’s struggles, and I have seen that the course we have chosen has helped her.

  • MomOf3

    My son, too, has been diagnosed with ADHD, however, he excels (so far — he’s in 2nd grade) at his school work, his handwriting is beautiful, and the kid is an amazing artist. Simply put, he just can’t sit still, he can’t seem to keep quiet, and has lots of trouble paying attention (seems to never be listening, ever) and is very distracting to others. And, sadly, still throws tantrums. We tried the med route for a few months and could not find the right “cocktail” so we gave up. The trial and error of testing this med and that, this dose and that, was daunting and stressful – I hated it! I also didn’t like the side effects – he was moody, withdrawn and horribly irritable. So…we upped his vitamin intake and we’ve seen some improvement. Will it work forever, probably not. I pray he out grows his hyperactivity, but as far as meds, I’m not ready to commit yet at this point in his life. I hope to never have to…they frighten me to be truly honest.

    • Karee Santos

      How blessed you are to have a son who excels at schoolwork despite troubles with attention and hyperactivity! I wish you the best of luck on finding the solution that works for your family.