Month: January 2014


But Would I Put Him Back on Stimulants?

Reports cards just came home for the second quarter, inspiring me to recap the events of 7th grade.

During the first quarter, Dylan was on stimulants.  He was on the honor roll with four A’s, 2 B’s and a C.  His report card also reflects that he consistently completed his work, and turned it in on time.

During the first quarter, Dylan also had meltdowns after school that sometimes lasted an hour, sometimes four hours.  He started talking about a deep and profound sadness, about his terrible new life in middle school, and about how he saw no real meaning in being on this earth.

So on the last day of the first quarter (a coincidence), Dylan went off of stimulants.  The despair vanished instantly.

During the second quarter, Dylan was on a variety of relatively useless drugs.  He took a high blood pressure medicine for the first half of the second quarter.

During this time, Dylan’s grades tanked.  He rarely, if ever, finished his work.  He lost the things he did – when pressed – finish.  He turned in almost nothing on time, and certainly didn’t turn in his homework without being poked, prodded and pushed.

During the second half of the second quarter, with his medication adjusted to an anti-depressant, he stopped bouncing around as much.  He was able to concentrate on rare occasions.  He finished more (but not all) of his work, and still rarely turned in his homework, classwork, or even his take-home quizzes.

At the end of the second quarter, Dylan had 3 A’s, 3 B’s and a C.  He’s still on the honor roll.

In other words, he got a B instead of an A in ONE CLASS (science) with the shift in medication.  The real difference is the agony with which he earned those grades.  Comparatively, first quarter was a breeze.

But would I put him back on stimulants?  After the two-day trial during the first week of the third quarter – and the resulting horrific behavior – I would have to say NO – absolutely not.

He hasn’t done any homework, studied any algebra, worked with his tutor, or even cracked a book since the new quarter began.

As a result, he has two failing grades in science class.  He failed a quiz miserably, and then got a failing grade on a writing assignment, which he doesn’t remember writing.  But he got an A on his lab so, oddly, he already has a B as a cumulative grade.

Shane – who is graded in a particularly unorthodox fashion, thanks to a ridiculous new curriculum – got one I, two ES’s and all the rest P’s.  There are about a hundred million P’s.  Since Shane’s report card makes no sense to anyone, I can translate: Shane got straight A’s, except for two A+++’s and a B (in art).

I looked over the report cards, studied them for some sign that these pieces of paper indicated Dylan or Shane.  But they didn’t.  They were just letters on a piece of paper.

There were no cute comments about the funny things they said in class, or what subjects they enjoyed the most, or how happy they seemed.  Just letters on a piece of paper.

And these letters will determine their future.

But only if we allow that.

I hung them on the refrigerator anyway.

 

 

Take Him Off the Stimulants.

On Monday, Dylan took his Strattera – now up to 54mg and still not having any effect on his attention.  Then he took what the doctor calls a “kicker” – 5mg of stimulant – the same one he took for years, until he became unreasonably moody and depressed.

So Strattera is an anti-depressant that is now being used to treat ADHD symptoms.  I guess the doctor figured that it would take care of the depression caused by the stimulants.

The doctor figured wrong.

Two days in a row now, Dylan has come home moody and irritable.  He hasn’t been like this in so long, I was stunned to think it could really be related to the medication.

But today when he called himself “basically a nobody” and then went upstairs and slammed his door – that’s when I realized that there is NO successful stimulant “kicker” in the world that is worth this.

I called the doctor 12 seconds after the door slam.

“I haven’t seen him like this since the last time he was on stimulants,” I told the doctor, via her secretary.

“Take him off the stimulants,” they told me.

So our trial is already over, faster than it really began.  And I have no hope for the future.

Odd how the stimulants can make me depressed.

This is Just Weird.

Today Dylan took four pills.  He may end up taking five next week, or he might drop down to two next month – but the dosage will be almost the same.

We’ve added stimulants back into the mix.  Strattera is an anti-depressant-turned-ADHD-medication, and it does help curtail the bounciness.  But putting him back onto Dextrostat – even at less than half his earlier dose, and even with anti-depressants to combat the possible crash – seems like a bad idea.

Dylan put all four pills into his hand.

“This is just weird,” he said.  Then he took all four of them simultaneously – and congratulated himself on his ability to swallow all those drugs at once.

Sigh.

Unfortunately, it worked for years.  Stimulants worked.  Maybe, with this perfect drug cocktail, it will work again.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading a book called The Out of Synch Child.  It’s got oodles about vision processing disorder – among other things – which is what Shane has, and I was interested in reading it to get to the heart of what’s been going on with Shane.

But last night, with sudden clarity, I re-read a section about hyposensitivity to motion.  It described Dylan so perfectly.  Actually, when I’d read it the first time, it reminded me of Dylan.  But now I’m wondering – what if he doesn’t even have ADHD?  What if he’s just hyposensitive to motion and might need some other form of treatment, like Shane did for vision processing?

It’s something to look into today…

He is a LITTLE KID!

Sometimes I think that the hardest thing about being a parent is making sure that the kids don’t kill each other.

Even on Shane’s birthday, I heard Dylan saying things to him like, “You didn’t do much for your birthday,” and “Birthdays are getting kind of lame.”

Maybe this is how Dylan is feeling.  After all, he got a used tractor for his birthday when he wanted a go kart.  Birthdays DO get lame as you get older – although I still fight to make mine spectacular every year.  But that’s another story.

Shane, however, has just turned 10.  Birthdays are still magical. They should still be magical at 13.  And having Dylan drill into his brain that birthdays “are getting kind of lame” threw me right over the edge.

I pulled Dylan aside – on Shane’s birthday – and screeched at him: “It is his BIRTHDAY.  He is a LITTLE KID!  If you can’t treat him kindly and show him some respect TODAY then don’t bother even LOOKING at him tomorrow!”

Sometimes I think my own personal issues creep in without my knowledge.

Looking back at this comment, it seems that there was more at play than just making sure Shane had a happy birthday.  There’s a bit of fear.  There’s the fear that my oldest son didn’t enjoy his own birthday, and that it’s my fault. There’s the fear that my oldest son has no respect for his brother, and that he will continue to verbally abuse him at every opportunity.

There’s the fear that my oldest son is going to get all the attention, all the time, even when it’s my youngest son’s birthday.  There’s the fear that my youngest son will never get any attention.

And there’s the fear that my boys are growing up, and that there’s nothing I can do to keep them young just a little while longer.

I need to back off and let them grow up.  Together, and in spite of what they say to one another.  In spite of Dylan and his issues, and me and my issues.

I need to back off.  And let them grow up.

Imagine You’re in a Box.

Yesterday was Shane’s birthday party. It never occurred to us that we would be in the midst of a crippling-the-city snowstorm.

Shane does not have a lot of friends.  He is, instead, careful about the people he chooses to befriend – and as such, cares deeply for every one of them. Eight out of ten invited kids struggled through the snow to get here. The party was an absolute success.

I was watching them play together – a mass of 9- and 10-year-olds who were as likely to sit quietly and play as they were to tear apart the house. I know enough to have games scheduled, so they only tore apart the house in organized fashion – but the sit-down games were my favorite, because I was able to learn so much more about them.

One characteristic stood out above all others:  Shane’s friends are smart.  They are just a step or two deeper than what one would expect of fourth graders. There wasn’t a lot of talk about video games, or television. They used some creative toys in very creative fashion.  And the jokes were almost adult in their intelligence.

One boy said, “Imagine you’re in a box.  How do you get out?”

From my post in the corner I thought, Gee, I don’t know.  What kind of box is it?  Why am I there?  Why can’t I get out?

Without even a beat, another boy called, “Stop imagining.”

“Right!” said the first boy.  Someone didn’t understand, so he explained.  “I said imagine you’re in a box.  If you want to get out, just stop imagining.”

Maybe this is a popular fourth-grade joke, but I sure didn’t hear it when I was in fourth grade.

Later, it was time to break out the building toys.  After cake, we had almost an hour scheduled for building.  Shane wanted to make card towers and build with dominoes – so some kids did that.  We also pulled out the Lego bin, and the boys swarmed all over them.  Some of the vehicles sitting on my kitchen table today are awesome.  And the domino tracks (which were occasionally knocked over by our dog) were also spectacular.

One boy, possibly Shane’s best friend in the world, wandered over to the bookshelf and found some incredibly hefty scientific books to study.  This is a boy who has awed me with his discussions of symbolism in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series.

The kids cleaned up before they left – without even being asked.  All of them!

And these are Shane’s best friends in the world.  They are kind, polite, incredibly funny, sweet and brilliant – just like Shane.  They aren’t all in his class, or even in his school, but he hangs onto their friendships – in his heart mostly – just enjoying the company.

I can remember Shane playing completely and utterly alone during recess in kindergarten.  Watching him for the first time, I was stunned.  When I was in kindergarten, I always played alone.  I didn’t have a real friend until fourth grade – and then just one.  Like Shane’s friends, my one friend was bright, kind and sweet.  And I hung onto her friendship until 7th grade, when I suddenly decided I needed to be cool and get new friends.

I regret it, and miss her to this day.

So I worry about middle school, and what effect it might have on Shane’s reaction to his awesome friends.  But I also talk to Shane, all the time, about how hard middle school can be.  I talk about how it’s more important for him to love his friends unconditionally than it is to try to be what the other kids might want him to be.

And then I sit back and watch him interact with his awesome friends, and I wait and hope for the best.

How’s the Strattera working?

Today we visited the neurologist again.  We love our neurologist.  We chose her because she is exceptionally thorough.  Not all doctors are as thorough.

When we were searching for the perfect doctor, I scoured the internet and studied reviews.  I talked to folks for recommendations.  And we went to at least half a dozen doctors.

Our doctor was recommended by a friend, and took more than an hour to examine Dylan.  She took frantic notes the entire time and gave us choices about medication.  She said she liked to dose low and build up, if need be.

We still had another appointment.  The final visit – and the final straw – was the  doctor who took one look at Dylan, asked him if he liked sports, and wrote us a six-month prescription for Vyvanse.  He didn’t even listen to Dylan’s heartbeat.

We chose the thorough doctor.  And she has never wavered in her thoroughness.

“How’s the Strattera working?” she asked.

“Well…” I started.

“Oh, that doesn’t sound good,” she said.

“It’s much better than the high blood pressure medication, but it’s more like a sedative,” I told her.

“How so?”

“He’s much less bouncy, but he still has no focus ability at all,” I said.

“So it’s helping with the hyperactivity but not the attention issues,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, ever the professional speaker.

In the course of the visit, she asked Dylan about feeling depressed.

“I still do sometimes,” he said, “but not as much as before.”

“You DO?” I asked him.  Then I turned to the doctor.  “He smiles and sings all day, every day!” I told her.  I felt like I was off my game somehow, having missed symptoms of my kid’s depression.

She explored it further, but there wasn’t much more for either of us to say.  I was stunned into silence.  Dylan?  Depressed?! I thought.

“It’s mostly at school,” he said.  “And hardly ever at home.”

Well, I thought, at least that explains why I don’t see it.

After another hour in her office, during which time she explored every symptom of every kind including those that have nothing to do with ADHD, we decided to increase the dose of Strattera and – in a week – add a very small dose of stimulant to the mix.

I asked if it might not be worth our while just to try a different stimulant, in hopes that the depression and pre-suicidal behavior might not return.

“All stimulants will have the same effects,” she said.  “There isn’t one that would be better than any other.”

“I was hoping that maybe there were some that didn’t have the ‘crash’ factor,” I told her.  I had been studying my copy of Straight Talk about Psychiatric Medications for Kids.

“No,” she assured me.  “Once he has had this reaction, and also the way that he is talking today, I think we should really try to avoid those negative behaviors.”

So here we go again.  Three pills in the morning for a week, adding a touch of stimulant – and a fourth pill – after that.

We shall see.  Meanwhile, not a teeny tiny touch of depression.  Dylan kicked butt in Monopoly again, and we had an absolute blast, all day long.

But that will stop me from worrying about it.

Yes!

At 7:00 this morning, we got an email from Dylan’s algebra teacher.

“Good Morning!” she starts off happily.  “Dylan’s effort over the past few weeks has been great. He has totally turned it around.”

It’s the most enthusiastic this teacher has been in months.  Reading it, I am already thrilled.

“With the retakes he completed he was able to pull his grade up to a ‘C’!!!”  (The extra exclamation points are hers.)

She continues: “He also did fabulous on his exam… 85%!!”

At this point, I mutter out loud: “Oh. My. God.”  (Shane doesn’t like me to use the Lord’s name in vain, but I am still working on this.)

Dylan hears my gasp and calls from the breakfast table, “What?”

I walk in to see Dylan. For him, it is still an ordinary day.

Because I can’t be a positive, upbeat, encouraging mom, I say, “There’s good news and bad news.  First, you got a ‘B’ on your English exam. And you got a ‘B’ on your social studies exam.”

He is unphased by this.  I pause for dramatic effect.

“But…” (I wait for the proverbial drum roll.)  “You got an 85% on your algebra exam!”

Dylan leaps from his chair, waves a fist in the air and yells, “YES!”  Then he throws himself onto the floor in the next room, thundering like a fallen elephant.

Again squashing any chance of real positive reinforcement, I tell Dylan to be quiet so he doesn’t wake up Shane.

Realizing my error, I try again.  “Come and see the email!” I say.  Dylan reads it, looks up at me with his eyes shining, then goes back to the table and beams all through breakfast.

He says, “Now can I get Uvu?”  Or maybe he said Ubu, Ooloo.  I don’t know.

“What’s Uvu?” I ask.

“It’s a program I wanted to download and you said to ask you after exams.”

“Is that the one where the age requirement is 18?” I ask.

“No, that was Kik,” he says.

“You can get Uvu,” I say.  I have no idea what Uvu is.  But he’s a pretty good kid, I think, and I can probably trust him to be safe with it – whatever it is.

Then I rush him out the door to the bus, which he almost misses because he was so late in coming to breakfast, and because of all the algebra hoopla.

It’s a glorious day in the Hawkins household.

That’s Before I Knew Anything Was Wrong.

My son is off to his algebra exam – the test that will determine (for him) whether hard work, practice and strong effort actually bring rewards.

It’s a milestone of sorts – his first anxiety-producing exam.  And when I walked into his room this morning to give him a good-morning hug, all I could think about were the days when, as a toddler, I would lift him into my arms and we would dance and dance around the living room to Rod Stewart’s rendition of Ooh La La.

“I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger…”

It’s only been 10 years.  Ten short years since my baby – now two inches taller than me – would dance with me in the living room, or fly into my arms to be twirled in the air, or sit outside with me and play in a mud puddle.  It was only ten years ago.

And this morning, for the first time, I thought, That’s before I knew anything was wrong with him.

But there is nothing wrong with him.  He’s not broken; he’s made this way.  God picked him to be just exactly like this: ADHD and all.  He’s brilliant and sweet and funny and kind and optimistic and enthusiastic and absolutely perfect just the way he is.

So what if he can’t concentrate in school?  He can concentrate when it matters to him.  He can do things he loves – build, design, invent, re-invent – and no one has to tell him to “pay attention.”

He’s getting straight A’s in engineering – and it’s hard.  He has to learn the principles of design and put them to use in building a whole slew of different contraptions.  His contraptions work.  And he loves doing it.

It’s just that … his brain doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.  The neurotransmitters aren’t firing on all cylinders.  So it’s hard for him to concentrate on things that aren’t hands-on.  He bounces to stay stimulated.  He sings and spins and taps to keep his brain firing.  It’s irritating as heck, but it’s how he keeps himself entertained when the subject matter isn’t entertaining enough.

So if he does well on the exam, so be it.  It would be a great lesson that hard work does pay off.

But if he doesn’t do well, it would be a great lesson that studying for three weeks isn’t as efficient as keeping up with the class on a daily basis.

Either way, I love that boy.  And I want him to know that, above all else.

Study For What?

Semester exams happen this week in seventh grade.  I had no idea there were “semester” exams.  When I was in school, exams simply didn’t exist.  We had frequents tests, and there may have been some extra-large tests at the end of the year, but nothing like this.

Dylan’s algebra grade depends on his doing well on his algebra exam.

His tutor has come three times every week.  Dylan’s grade went from a 32% to a 65% and is now hovering at 73%.  He has a C!  We are so excited!  My genius son has an average grade!  Yaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy!

Two more days of tutoring before the algebra exam.  Meanwhile, he does have other exams looming.

So yesterday, I made a suggestion: “Maybe you could study.”

“What for?” he said.

“For your exams,” I said.

“Well I’m ready for everything except algebra,” he said.  He then ran through his class list, and why he didn’t need to study for any of those classes.

“It’s still a good idea,” I said, “to at least run through what you’ve done for the past four months.  Just go through your paperwork and get a reminder of what you’ve done, so you can be ready for any topic.”

“Well, I am going to study social studies tomorrow,” he said.  This, from a kid who is always going to do whatever – tomorrow.

“And you have English tomorrow,” I said.  “Just go through your paperwork and see what’s there.”  I tried not to push, but if he doesn’t learn to study soon, he’s going to sink when he gets to high school.

And then, to my surprise, Dylan opened his binder.  He took out some paperwork and looked at the topics that are going to be covered on his English exam.  He read them out loud to me, and it was obvious that he was going to do fine on his English exam.

As a matter of fact, he’ll probably do fine on all of his exams – maybe even algebra.  He calls his other classes “easy.”

I think it’s great that he thinks social studies is easy.  It’s all history.  The things he’s learning in there are beyond my scope of recognition.  I don’t even know the time frame, let alone what happened then.

In science, he says, he just has to dissect a frog.  No studying required for that, he says.  Looking back on my frog dissection, which scarred me for life, I quickly printed a letter about the ethical treatment of animals – and Dylan will be doing his dissection on the computer.  No frog deaths necessary here.

“What about chorus?” I asked him.  “You said it was a hard one.”

“I said it was a long one,” Dylan corrected.  “I’m all about music.”  And he is.  No need to study, I guess.

But at least, he gave it a shot for English.  And tonight, after his tutor, he’s promised to look at some social studies.  It’s a start.

He might be headed to college after all.

Isn’t It Funny How The Time Goes?

It’s a two-hour delay today, thanks to icy road conditions.

Dylan, who is awake with me at 6:30 when we learn of the delay, is concerned only with his algebra exam.  If they change the schedule, will he have to take the test earlier in the week?  He wants the extra time to study with his tutor.

I assure him, then reassure him, that they won’t change the exam schedule for today.  I tell him sleep is the most important thing, and just to rest now, not to worry.

Then I spend two hours trying to sleep, worrying about the exam schedule.

When I get out of the shower, the boys are both awake and playing with Pokemon cards.  But they are not ready for school.  Dylan is in pajamas and obviously hasn’t even considered brushing his teeth yet.

“Dylan, your bus will be here in 20 minutes.”

“What?  Already?” he stammers.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Bye, Shane,” he says, sprinting from Shane’s bedroom and leaving a terrible mess that Shane doesn’t even see.

Shane is in his underwear with a shirt on, digging around for pants.  He must have heard me coming.

“Good morning, Shane!” I say jovially, since Shane is almost dressed and he still has 2 1/2 hours before school starts.

I go downstairs and make Dylan’s breakfast.  I let the dog out.  I let the dog in, and dry her feet.  I make peanut butter sandwiches and pack up lunchboxes.  I check my email.  I wait.

Dylan thunders downstairs ready to eat an omelet, whole-grain toast and a green banana with only six minutes left.

Luckily, he inhales it all in four.

Dylan takes his pills.  He’s still successfully taking Strattera, if you can call B’s (instead of A’s) and D’s (instead of F’s) a “success.”

“Can you drive me to the bus stop?”

“Sure.”  It is icy rain, after all.

I toss a bowl of cereal on the table for Shane.

“I’ll be right back,” I yell to Shane.  We get to the bus stop 42 seconds before the bus arrives.  I turn around and drive the 500 yards back to our house.

It is 9:30 in the morning.  It feels like 7 a.m.

Shane and I spend almost two hours playing with Little People, reading books and doing magic tricks.

We talk about the show we’re going to see tonight.  The kids got tickets in their stockings for Christmas.  Shane is excited to go, as we all are.

“Remember when we got our tickets,” he says, “and we thought it was such a long wait until January 10th?”

“I remember,” I say.

“But now it’s here and tonight we’re going to the show and it was, like, so fast!” Shane says.  “And in two years it will be like, wow, that show was a long time ago!”

I laugh.  “That’s probably true,” I say, not wanting to recognize that, in two years, Shane will be facing middle school persecution and Dylan will be looking at colleges.

When it’s time to go to school, we can’t believe how fast the time went.  We manage to be almost late, like always.  He jumps out of the car into the rain.

For some reason, watching him trot up the sidewalk, backpack bouncing, saddens me … just a little bit more than usual.

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