Throwing the bottle away

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At some point in every infants life, they toss their bottle.  Of course, what do parents first do?  They pick it up and give it right back; never asking why they are throwing it away.  Eventually, it must occur to parents (I’m not yet a parent, so I’m sure there’s still much for me to learn) it’s time to take the bottle away.  Later in my life, I had to make a similar decision without the assistance of my parents this time.  I was finding that medication was starting to alter my behaviours in ways that were actually hindering my abilities.  I was less ambitious, socially exciting, and active.  I was finding that some days I just did not want to take my meds and some days I needed them to study for a test.  I knew I couldn’t keep up a charade of randomly taking my meds; that;s how I start to forget to take them.  If I forget to take them when I need them, it could really mess my day up as I’ve become, in a way, dependent of their effects to function.

I was 22 when I first started this dialogue with myself.  It had been 3 years since my drug concerns; I’ve molded modeled my study habits to complete high school, and my first year of studies (away from home.)  I dealt with, successfully, moving through 3 different schools; high school, university of Guelph, and the university of Windsor.  It was really the University of Windsor part that told me I was ready to start moving on from meds.  I successfully completed my first year of Drama in Education, but found that I wasn’t ready for the workload.  I still wanted to have fun, to party, and I wasn’t ready to do the amount of work required for this program (the first year introduction class greeted me with a 100-page final paper.)  I took a look forward in my life and decided I wanted to study an easier degree and then return to finish my program.  I move to London and attended University of Western Ontario for a B.A. in sociology.  It was a bold move, but I wouldn’t be where I am without it.  Had I not gone, I likely would have ended up dropping out of school and failing to move on in life.

While in London, I had a very easy schedule, academically.  I usually took only 4 courses, and I was really strong in social sciences, thus the classes came naturally to me.  The lighter class schedule allowed me to focus my attention to other components of my life, starting with accommodations at university.  It took me good couple of weeks to track down the right people and to advocate for myself, but eventually I was greeted with great accommodations.  The government (through the bursary for students with a disability) purchased me a new laptop, the university supplied me with extra exam writing time when I needed it, and the university also advocated for me when I needed it.  The last part was the bridge I needed.  They university supplied a letter explaining that I was granted certain accommodations, one was that any overheads and powerpoints were to be provided to me on paper or electronically so that I did not have to copy.  I was also allowed to voice record any lectures, a tool that I never found useful other than in one particular class.  My Survey of Sociological Theories class had a really good prof teaching it, but he was also very reluctant to support me.  It didn’t seem that he just didn’t believe that I needed it, but that he had his own agenda that I was disrupting.  He loved overheads, and I hated them.  I asked for paper copies, and I asked to record his class.  He was shocked-white.  He told me he would get back to me, and I gave him my letter.  The next class he came back and offered me the paper copies of his notes, in exchange I don’t record the class–now in any other situation, a student shouldn’t take a compromise if they need their accommodations, but I didn’t need the voice recording.  I was an easy victory as I got the notes I needed and aced the course.  I even received my first A on an essay, ever!

Learning to advocate and take responsibility for my own education was the first step to weaning myself off of the bottle.  The next part was learning to organize my time.  These steps were unknown to me at the time, but thankfully, life kind of just challenged me the way I needed to be challenged.  I quickly found that OSAP would not be enough for me to live in London and was afraid of having to quit school halfway-through.  I was not ready to do this, so I took a job as a part-time security officer.  I worked many concerts back stage, including ZZ top and Meat Loaf, but most often would have to work midnights.  The schedule was non-existent.  I would often be called the day of and would have to arrange transportation to and from work.  It was a challenge for sure.  It started to take a toll at school as I would skip classes and avoid studying.  When my school started to suffer, I realized that this was a problem.  I started to look for a job with more stability, and stumbled across a tech support job.  One of my best friends (quick fact: 5 out of 7 people in the groom’s party at my wedding had AD(H)D,) introduced me to the job.  It was great because I was given my schedule in advance, and later was offered a standard 8p-2a M-F schedule.  The job gave me a chance to study and complete assignments during downtime, and gave me the stability I needed.  This meant I was rarely home.  I would have classes from 8a-3p, come home, nap, cook, and go to work.

I learned quickly how to save time.  I would cook big dinners on Sundays and Wednesdays which were my easy schedule days, and cook enough for 10 people.  The leftovers were my meals for the rest of the week.  I would do grocery shopping on my way home from school at lunch on Tuesdays.  On Fridays, I would do laundry as I only had one class.  As these habits started to form, I realized that I was at my best when the basic, mundane parts of my life were habits.  Habits quickly became routines and required very little thought.  By not having to think, my mind was freed to focus on other things in my life.

I found that when I followed my routines, I was doing really well in school and didn’t require my meds.  My anxiety levels were lowered, my attention was easier to control, and I was happier.  I quickly learned, however, that when these routines became disrupted, my anxiety levels were through the roof.  I still am working on the anxiety part today; but I realized that this was who I was.  I looked back at my childhood and saw that I was at my best when I was busy with routines.  

I started to form routines everywhere in my life.  When I wake up in the morning, I would eat breakfast, watch the same morning show, then shower, get dressed, and brush my teeth.  It sounds simple, nothing anyone else doesn’t do, but its the days when I’m out of toothpaste, or my show isn’t on that dictates the importance of order.  If I finished breakfast and the shower was being used, I would fall apart.  I wouldn’t know what to do, and rather than brush my teeth, I would just sit and watch more TV until the shower was free.  I had to keep my schedule.  If I ran out of toothpaste and had to go to the store, I would be late or miss school.  I could not adapt.

Finding success without my meds was a combination of understanding how I function best, and creating routines that plays to my strengths.  Even when I selected my courses, I knew that I did not like to do repetitive work like in math and science, thus I steered clear of those subjects as much as possible.  I knew I loved leadership roles, so I would always join weaker groups.  I knew I was a social learner, so I was the first to volunteer to present (it got me out of the ugly written work.)

It didn’t happen over night, but I kept the med bottle full, and ready, for over 3 years.  When there was a major test, when my day was thrown out of schedule, I would take my meds.  I eventually learned my own coping strategies to deal with my anxiety.  Even to this day, I’m still learning how to express why I get irritable with somethings.  Recently, I learned why I hate shopping with my wife so much.  I was getting almost claustrophobic in stores waiting for her to pick out a pair of shoes.  It was my anxiety and loss of control.  My wife and I work our best to solve these issues; sometimes its as easy as bringing my tablet along to play games on.  It’s going to be a life long process, but every day I’m getting better at it.  I haven’t taken my meds for 8 years now.  This November, I successfully finished a long term assignment and coached cross country at one school, coached basketball at another school, and tutored 3 different students.  I think I’m finding my own success without my meds.

To medicate, or not to medicate…

Many parents of children with AD(H)D have come across this question.  There seems to be a mix of research and myths that surround this issue that often make this choice very difficult to make.  My mother was a nurse in Detroit, and thus had access to multiple doctor opinions.  Those opinions, however, were limited in their usefulness as each situation, each child, each family, is different.

My childhood had a resume of drugs that I was taking (and not taking) that resembled a purchase order from a small pharmacy: Ritalin, Dexedrine, Aderall, and Concerta.  Each coming in different release times, dosages, and form.  The controlled substances had many side effects, some listed, some unlisted.  The listed side effects were pretty standard: loss of appetite, mood swings, loss of sleep, and anxiety.  The ones that were never mentioned ended up being the most challenging to me and my family.

I can remember the first time I was called down to the office.  The secretary paged my class and asked me to come down to the office.  I got to the office, took my (at the time we were flopping between Ritalin and Dexedrine, but I’m not sure which one I started with) medication and returned to class.  Of course, as any teacher and student would tell you, the first thing my peers would do is ask me why I was called down to the office.  I was in grade 4, I don’t even remember what made up answer I gave them; I knew I didn’t want people to know I was “disabled” (back in the early 90s, this was how I was labelled.)

I quickly told my parents how uncomfortable I was with being paged down.  I told them that I felt embarrassed and didn’t like having to answer those same questions every day.  A solution was presented; I would simply go down to the office under my own power as soon as lunch started.  We didn’t know this at the time, but we now know that I have a memory disability as well.  We did know, however, that I was a grade 4 student with AD(H)D.  It was very easy for me to get distracted with something else, or to simply forget to go down –I was 9.  So obviously, my parents and teachers got upset with me.  I once read a journal article that explained how AD(H)D did not cause stressed relationships and interactions at home and school, but provided an opportunity for a catalyst for a negative situation.  Stress at home is caused mainly by how people chose to react to this catalyst, and this was a perfect example.  Looking back now, we can see that we needed a better solution then to rely on they child to make sure to take their stay-focused-medication.

Another catalyst came up when my parents found out that I was not eating my lunch.  I ate huge breakfasts prior to taking my medication, and huge dinners when my medication was wearing off.  We never did find a working solution to that, I just learned to hate lunch all throughout school.

Medication was always a hot topic at my house.  I was on one med, my other brother was on a different dose, and later, my youngest brother would also be on it.  It was another negative catalyst that my parents did eventually figure out, but it took time.  It was one of those side effects that don’t appear on a bottle, but definitely should.  “CAUTION, MAY CAUSE PARENTS TO USE MEDICATION AS A CRUTCH, BAND AID, AND FIX-ALL-DUCT-TAPE.”

Yes, my parents would do just that.  If I forgot my books at school, they would ask: “did you take your medication today?”  It was the go to question for everything I did wrong.  As an adult, I now understand why they were asking, however, as a child, it made me mad and made me feel that my parents were trying to drug me to solve their parenting problems, rather than to address the problems themselves.  I started to rebel against medication, refusing to take it, and sometimes cheeking my meds until I could spit them out.  My parents would find them in the garbage and were now having to deal with accessible meds to an infant (my younger sister.)  This was probably the biggest negative catalyst, and it took my parents years to figure out how to address it.

As I grew older, more mature, and switched to a less obsolete medication, I started to take my meds more often.  Sometimes, a little too often.  I started to get into drugs when I was in high school, but at the same time, I started to compete in swimming meets.  I still to this day, have no clue what made me initially start this, but I did, nonetheless, start to take 2 to 4 times my dose.  I found that with higher doses, my mind became more alert, my muscles became quicker, and I had much more energy.  I would dose myself an hour before a swim meet, looking for a little bit of an edge.  It was wrong, it was dangerous, and worst of all, no one knew.

Medication for AD(H)D is a big choice.  You are dealing with a drug that is a controlled substance, that can be sold on the street, and that has many side effects.  From my experience I believe that the biggest question is not whether or not the medication will negatively affect your child, but rather how ready are you to help your child to use this medication as an aid.  After all, medication is not a solution, but merely another strategy to help your child adjust positively to having AD(H)D.  Can you think “big picture?”  Will your child take this medication for the rest of their life, or do you have an end game?

 

My First Blog – How I Learned About ADD/ADHD

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Christian and Donny

As this is my first blog, I would like to preface it with a little bit of my background. I am the mother of two wonderful teenage boys. I discovered, many years ago, that each one of them has a unique set of learning obstacles they had to overcome.

Before becoming a teacher I had worked with persons with physical disabilities for 14 years as a PSW, then as a DSW, while studying Psychology and then Education at the University. I was offered the opportunity to teach Life Skills at St. Clair College and loved the experience.  I was determined that I was going to become an excellent Special Education teacher. It was around the same time that it was discovered that my sons’ each had a learning disability. That information only made my decision to specialize in Special Education even more salient. Immediately after graduating I pursued my specialist in Special Education and got in contact with the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor-Essex. I wanted to become heavily involved in order to learn as much as I could about what was affecting Leigh_12our family and to contribute to a great cause.

I have been with LDA-WE for almost 7 years now and have learned so much. I sat on the Board of Directors for 6 years and now my son is the student representative. As well, I have been trained in the Orton-Gillingham Methodology (Dyslexia Remediation) and have been a Learning Support Teacher and Special Education for 9 years.

I am looking forward to sharing information, strategies and advice in the areas that I have had the most experience. My standpoint is not only as a teacher, but as a parent that has been through the trials and tribulations of discovering the challenges of learning disabilities.

How I learned all about ADD/ADHD

I remember the October my oldest son was in Kindergarten. His teacher called us in to discuss our son’s progress thus far. We were invited to sit in the little plastic chairs. She started our conversation by letting us know how much she enjoyed having our son in her class and that he was coming along well in the French Immersion program that we had opted to give a try.
“One thing that concerns me is that Christian does not seem to be paying attention at circle time.” She began. I did not see that coming.hiding under the bed 001
“What do you mean, exactly?” I asked, quite bewildered.
“Well, when we are doing activities like singing or sharing, he is playing with his shoelaces, looking around the room and bothering the friends around him.” She added. I didn’t like where this was going. My son was bothering friends?
“When you ask him a question, does he know the answer?” I asked, now worried that she might be alluding to the idea that my son doesn’t understand what is going on.
“Oh yes, he most definitely understands the questions and is usually able to give an appropriate answer. I’m just concerned about his focus.” She said with a furrowed brow.

I didn’t know what to make of what she was saying. I felt like I needed to defend my son. I was sure this was just a ‘boy’ thing and this teacher was not used to boys. I was in my fourth year of studying Behaviour and Cognitive Neuropsychology and I was positive my son was very clever and had passed all his developmental milestones with flying colours. There didn’t seem to be any issues or red flags, even at the daycare he had attended for many years. Perhaps she just didn’t like him? Questions were flying through my head. All the ideation that was occurring led me to the final conclusion that it was probably her and not my son.

The problem, I discovered later, was that I didn’t know what to do with that information. The missing piece to that puzzle was the next step.

For the next few years Christian had some issues in school, but none of the teachers had any huge complaints about focus or attention – only that he took a long time to get his work done. He was very polite and well-behaved but had a hard time finishing his work in class and would have to bring it home to complete. These times became very difficult because he also had difficulty completing the work at home. I didn’t realize how unusual it was to take such an extended amount of time to complete work.

When Christian was in grade 2, his little brother Donny started JK and a whole different world opened up. I was just finishing up my Bachelor of Education when Donny was finished grade 1 and it had become apparent that French Immersion was not the best choice for the boys. They switched to the district public school to begin their years in grade 4 and grade 2.

Christian’s grade 4 year was a challenge. He had difficulties in math and language, barely passing. His teacher ensured me that Christian knew his stuff, but was having other issues. Now, as a brand new teacher, this was all new to me. As the school year progressed I did begin to notice that he had difficulty organizing his things and initiating tasks. His teacher suggested that perhaps Christian may have an attention problem. I was not very familiar with ADD/ADHD so I began to research. I asked lots of questions to try to understand why it took him so long to finish things. There was a lot of information out there and a lot of different ideas about how it is acquired. The puzzle pieces were coming together though – Christian was a very intelligent student, he just wasn’t starting or finishing his work. After a lot of reading and wondering if this was Christian’s issue, I decided to take him to a doctor (along with his little brother – a subject for future blogs!).

There were very few specialists in the area at the time. I was fortunate enough to get an appointment for Christian with Dr. Sharon Burey. The first appointment with her was an interview with Christian’s father and me, then a second appointment with the boys. After a lot of discussion and review of problematic behaviours Dr. Burey confirmed what was expected… that Christian most likely had some form of ADD. Since he did not exhibit the signs of hyperactivity, it was not included in his diagnosis. Donny was also suspected to have some ADHD (with hyperactivity), but Dr. Burey wasn’t confident that was the cause of his difficulties. She suggested we try medication to see if it made a difference in Christian’s ability to focus and for Donny’s behaviour as well. Although reluctant (very, very, very reluctant), it was a go.

Donny’s trial with medication was very short-lived. It made no difference in either his behaviour or his difficulties (again, a future blog) so it was discontinued after a brief trial. Christian began the medication about half-way through grade 4. It was almost immediately evident from teacher feedback that there was improvement. This improvement was not noticeable at home though. After school Christian would be cranky and often cry. He also was still having difficulties completing homework, although he did have less because he was completing it during the day. After speaking with Dr. Burey about this problem, his medication was changed to Adderall. The change was dramatic this time. Christian was alert and focused at school and was able to complete gradphot 001his homework with very little cueing. The medication was a success! Christian still needed guidance with organization and initiation of his tasks, but he was definitely meeting with more success and gaining confidence in all aspects of his life. His marks had increased from C’s and D’s to B’s and even some A’s.

There was a period of time that his medication was off the market due to concerns. We had to try different types of medication and had some difficulties trying to adjust. However, the medication came back on the market and he continues to take it to focus when necessary.

Later on in school, it was discovered that he also has the added challenge of Executive Functioning Disorder, which can often go hand-in-hand with ADD/ADHD. We have learned many tips and tricks to deal with this learning disability as well and will share in future posts.

Christian has now graduated high school with honours and scholarships and is headed to University to study Chemistry and Physics. We are very proud of his accomplishments. He has learned many strategies through the years to deal with his attention issues. We have discovered that awareness of your own challenges and a great sense of humour are really the most helpful strategies…along with great community support.

I am willing to share and exchange ideas and best practices! Please feel free to share your successes as well.

A Stitch in Time

He darts around the playground, nudging a small child as he whips by. He moves with abandon, no awareness of where he is in space or for that matter, where others are.  He flashes a grin at other children and occasionally calls out “come on” but he does not wait for them and they quickly stop interacting with him.  He goes up and down the slides with fervor – I am tired just watching him. A small child gets in his way and he pushes by accident and makes  her cry in fear.  I’m beside him as much as possible redirecting him, making apologies. I glance at the other parents – sitting and drinking coffee while their children play. I’m envious and if I care to admit – I’m lonely being the parent of my son.  I try to think of him as spirited but even spirited makes me tired at this moment.

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Fast forward several months – after a Psychological assessment and consultation with the Pediatrician we have decided to try our son on a small dose of medication for his Attention Deficit Disorder(ADHD).  I am filled with worry and anticipation at the same time. I give it to him with his juice and he swallows it easily. We head to the park with his Respite worker – we have found it takes two of us to keep him safe while out. I haven’t told her about the pill. It’s such a small dose I wonder if I will be able to see any difference. We arrive at the park and he darts for the playground and I feel a small bit of disappointment. He climbs up the slide and then slowly slides back down. He pauses at the bottom and looks around at the other children. He approaches 2 girls who are crouching over a hole in the sand. He asks them what they are doing and I don’t hear the answer – I watch amazed as my son has a conversation with same age peers.  He leaves the girls and approaches a boy who is holding a book. My son asks about the book and the two boys head to a picnic table to look at it. They sit there for 17 minutes( I timed it). The Respite worker is stunned. We are both in tears. The medication didn’t make everything disappear but boy did it give our son a fighting chance to make friends and enjoy life.

Medication is a very personal decision and one that only parents can make for their child. Too often I hear people making disparaging remarks about parents who choose to medicate. That is why I wrote this post. To give you a glimpse of what life was like without the medication and to know that if you have chosen medication for your child you are not alone.

Tina is a full time working mom of 2 boys and married to an amazing husband. She blogs infrequently at Spirited Blessings