Saturday, February 1, 2014
the gift of focus
Kaden has always been extremely energetic. Throughout my pregnancy with him I often wondered if he ever slept or took a break. He kicked and kicked and wiggled constantly. When he was born he had clearly defined little leg muscles. He arched his back and turned to look around when I held him on my shoulder. I couldn't ever get a good picture of him, even as a newborn, because he was constantly wiggling and moving every part of his body, including his face. He slept well in the night, but only liked to take little catnaps in the day. He has had energy coursing through his body since day one.
I've always appreciated this energy, even though at times it can be completely exhausting for me. He requires a lot of my time and attention. He is always thinking of something new to create, often using my very important things. To my dismay, I have on many occasions realized his creative genius had once again destroyed something of mine, or created such a disaster I don't even know where to start. He builds the most intricate amazing things. It started with train tracks with multiple levels, tunnels, and curves. Now he has moved on to Legos and k'nex, things involving batteries, rubber bands, cords, you name it. The things his mind thinks of are astounding to me. He is a little mechanical genius.
He can run for miles and never tire. Thankfully he is coordinated and agile, because he is climbing and jumping from everything. We try to do a lot of very active things so he is able to burn a little bit of his energy. He jumps and rolls, and talks a million miles a minute. He is inquisitive and never stops asking questions. I love this and it drives me crazy at the same time. He wants to always be learning and figuring things out. He never is still. Even when watching a movie or reading a book, he is upside-down, doing somersaults, making noise, tapping on things, kicking his legs, or tossing his head side to side. He has a constant motor that never stops running.
He often tells me he feels "hot inside". I wish I knew what this felt like. He says his throat is hot, his head is hot, or his chest feels hot. I think it's just that bottled up energy trying to escape. I really wonder what that is like. I wish I had some.
I've been communicating these things with Kaden's teachers since he was three. I have always known he was quite an active, enthusiastic boy, but in the back of my mind have also always known that he was not just a typical active boy. At the age of three or four, this doesn't really matter much. His preschool and kindergarten teachers always advised to just play it by ear, keep an eye on it and see how things are as time goes on. As first grade has progressed, it has become quite clear that this sweet little man's energy is hurting him a little. I think that often our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. Everything must be balanced, and with Kaden his energy is so unbalanced with everything else that it's started to hinder him.
Kaden has on many occasions accidentally hurt people. He is so loving and excitable, that he often hurts people with his affection. He has a very hard time keeping his body to himself. He swings his arms, jumps up and down, hugs people, pulls on his friends, etc. He never means to hurt people, but he is also very strong and doesn't know the force he uses. We have had many frank discussions this year about how to appropriately show love and affection, about personal space, and about who is an appropriate person to hug, kiss, etcetera. It sort of breaks my heart, because he just has so much excitement and love to give and it's hard for him to hold it in. It isn't a bad thing to love other people or to be a good friend, but explaining the difference to Kaden has been hard.
My relationship with Kaden has always been excellent. He is a true and constant joy in my life. In that last year especially, I have seen my patience tried more than ever before. Despite constant organization and things I feel will help him, he hardly ever puts anything away, can never find what he is looking for, and usually doesn't do anything I've asked until I've asked five times and I'm starting to get upset. Everything has seemed a lot harder for us both lately. I hate this and often feel guilty for feeling upset because deep down I know he is trying and wants to do the right thing.
I feel so blessed that he has had the most incredible teachers the past three years. They have loved him and seen him for who he is. I am especially grateful for his teacher this year, Mrs. Appel. She adores Kaden and truly wants to see him succeed. She is experienced in kids with his temperament. She is younger than I am, she is warm and affectionate, and Kaden loves her so, so much. She makes accommodations for him, while still pushing him. She lovingly teaches and redirects him, never losing her patience. We have been in communication with each other consistently over this year. She lets me know how he is doing, where his strengths are, and the things that are hard for him.
As the year has gone on, my instincts that Kaden has classic signs of ADHD have persisted. The signs were written clearer as months went on. I think that because more is expected at his age, his struggles have become more obvious. He is extremely bright, but his written tests show him below grade level. Mrs. Appel has taken him aside to give him tests verbally and he spits out answers one after another, proving that his intelligence is actually above grade level. He has the hardest time sitting at a desk focusing on written work. He is forgetful, loses things, and cannot seem to stay on task.
Mrs. Appel says that she hasn't had a student that tried as hard as Kaden does. He is aware of the things that are hard for him and he tries to correct himself. He is constantly trying his hardest. He wants to please, he wants to follow the rules, he is kind, and he is respectful. She has said on numerous occasions, "it's like he wants so badly to do what we ask, but sometimes it just seems physically impossible for him..." After a parent-teacher conference in October we came to the conclusion that it would be in his best interest to at least pursue a possible diagnosis so that we would know how to better help him. I struggled with this a little bit, just because I hesitate so much to put anyone in a box, or to label someone, especially a child. I don't want this to become his identity. While I do believe that measures should be taken to teach a child according to how they best learn, I also know that everything shouldn't be catered or bent to make things easy because that is not how real life works. Sometimes things are hard and are a struggle and that is okay, that is how we learn.
I had to do my own thinking, praying, and learning. I thought about the possibility of medicating my child. It was sad to me, because I don't want to feel like I have to change him. It was also exciting to consider giving him the "gift of focus", and a little help that he needs to show his true potential. I realized that right now he still has good friends, he is young and not far behind, and this probably is the prime time to start this, even as an experiment. I would rather try this, than wait too long and have his peer relationships struggle, have him be seen as naughty or a trouble-maker, or have his confidence in himself be hurt. I don't want him to think he is weird, or annoying, or not as smart as everyone else. He isn't weird, he isn't annoying, and he is very smart. I realized that he deserves the best chance to show who he is and what he is capable of, and if it does come to medication, I'm grateful that there is something to help him. I made him an appointment and took him in just last week.
His teacher and I both filled out a questionnaire separately and it was interesting that our answers were almost identical. I was so grateful we saw a patient, kind doctor who first paid all of his attention to Kaden. He asked him questions and talked to him about his life and I pretended I wasn't even there. Kaden felt so special. Then we talked and after many questions, the paperwork, and realizing that attention deficit issues run hugely in Matt's family, the writing was all over the wall. My suspicions (as well as many family members) were confirmed. Kaden has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I'm thinking of giving it another name. The doctor reiterated my own feelings when he said, "this is NOT a disorder, it's just a completely different way of thinking, analyzing, and processing. This is NOT a deficit. He is just taking in EVERYTHING all at once; he is paying attention to absolutely everything and it's hard to sift through all of that. He is incredibly intelligent, it just manifests in different ways than a 'typical' child."
After a long discussion about medication I felt comfortable with starting him on a very low extended release dosage. I was concerned with long term effects, especially on a developing brain. Dr. McGrath pulled his chair right up next to mine and drew pictures for me to understand exactly what Kaden's brain is doing and how it works with and without medication. It made so much sense to me. There are no verifiable long or short term issues associated with any of the medications we had to choose from. Again the doctor reiterated my exact feelings when he said, "but will alienating friendships and struggling in school have a long term effect?..." This has been the biggest concern of mine. It would break my heart if in a few years he was really, really struggling and I could have done something to help him earlier. We will go back in only 2 weeks to reassess and talk about what we notice during this trial period. I am so appreciative to this doctor who truly was concerned with me and my child, who took a lot of his valuable time to answer each and every question I had in detail, and to put my mind at ease. The more I think and pray on this, I feel that for us, for Kaden, we have made the right decision. This will be an ongoing thing that probably needs constant assessment and attention, but I am thankful to be starting on something that will help my sweet boy.
We have explained to Kaden why he is taking this medicine. He seems excited at the idea that he might be able to sit in his chair at school, remember what his teacher and parents ask him to do, and have a little bit of an easier time. We will continue to try to maintain excellent nutrition and to do other natural things that are also shown to help in this sort of thing. I feel confident that we are on a path that will help our child and our family. I know this isn't the path that many would choose, but it is a personal decision and one that we feel very comfortable with after years of anticipating and thinking about this.