This blog is not FDA approved
Jeffrey, my son, was 22 months when he lost all of his words. We didn’t think much of it as he hadn’t been a very verbose child, preferring to play by himself quietly. Unusual for a small child of that age, but he was a joy to be around. I didn’t think anything of it when I took him into his 2 year well baby check up and the doctor expressed some concern about his lack of vocabulary. I had started talking late and so had my husband. The pediatrician was a bit more cautious and gave us a referral to the Early Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS) on Aviano AB in Italy, just to cover all of our bases.
We scheduled the appointment with EDIS and took Jeffrey in for an evaluation. We watched for 2 hours as they tested him, not allowed in the room as it may distract him. We had no idea what they were doing. At that time, we were blissfully unaware of what was going on or what the testing could mean.
We met with Dr. Campbell in his office after the testing was done. He was a very no-nonsense kind of man, with a gentle bedside manner for the children he worked with, but very brusque with the parents. I remember him stating, quite clearly, “It will take a couple of weeks to get the results back, but I can say with utmost certainty that your son is autistic.”
I know that he went into more detail, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember another word that he said. I remember spiraling into a dark space in my mind, wondering what that meant for my son.
When he started school, there were issues. Not big ones, at first. Little ones. Fidgeting, not paying attention, talking out of turn (when he talked at all), socially unacceptable behaviors. It wasn’t until he was 5 that I learned that one of the side symptoms of autism was AD(H)D like behavior. He would display some of this behavior when he was in class and it was distracting to him and to the other students. It made him fall behind in class and caused many a phone call to be made to me to come and put him back on task.
When we left Italy and moved to Mississippi, this became a great big problem. One of the things that autistic children have a problem with is change. Moving from Italy into a new house in a new place meant that Jeffrey was having a hard time of it. His symptoms of AD(H)D that had manifested in Italy became worse when we were in Mississippi. I spent many a day at the school fighting with the administrators.
Nevertheless, we didn’t medicate yet. I wanted to give it more time. I wanted to see if he could manage to learn the coping skills he would need to make it through life. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
When my ex-husband got orders to New Jersey three years after we had arrived in Mississippi, I made the decision to medicate our son (my ex wasn’t very involved, by choice, in the therapies, fights and medical issues of our son). I thought that we would give it a shot to give him the best possible chance to succeed in a new place, a new school and with new people.
We tried different medication. We started with Concerta (a Ritalin based product), then moved to Adderrol (which stunted his growth so much that he didn’t gain any weight or height for a full year) and then we moved over to Focalin (which is what he has been on for the past 5 years). We were very lucky to have a wonderful pediatrician in New Jersey that was watching Jeffrey’s health so closely. Focalin is a mirror image drug of Ritalin, taking away the harmful side effects that were seen with the Ritalin, and it was the pediatrician’s suggestion that we try this particular drug. We have had tremendous success on this medication, with him having just completed his Freshman year in High school with friends and good grades.
I recognized, very quickly, that the teachers that Jeffrey was going to have to interact with were not going to be able to focus on him, one-on-one, with the redirection and such that he would need in order to succeed in school. Also, I understood that his lovely quirks, the ones that I cherished, would make him the target of bullies and such at school. For me, it wasn’t just about his formal education and succeeding there, it was also having him succeed in peer interaction - something that is very, very hard for an autistic person to do.
I didn’t want to medicate, honestly. I didn’t want to mess with my child’s physiology in such a base manner. However, I knew that he would need help to succeed academically. Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind (the education reform bill passed by former President Bush and never funded correctly) had very much tied the school district’s, and therefore the Special Education Department’s, hands with regards to offering my son the support that he needed and deserved in a classroom setting. Weighing in this factor, I knew that I would have to do something. Medication seemed the best route for us.
There have been drawbacks. There have been times when the medication has worn off and there have been tantrums and such when he is put in a situation that overstimulates him. We do have to plan around the 5 o’clock hour, which is when his meds wear off. However, with the medication, he is able to focus in such a way that he is achieving more than I ever thought possible.
It’s been bumpy, but….
It’s been 13 years since we received the diagnosis that changed everything. Ten of those years have been spent fighting for his rights, fighting for his success and fighting to make sure that I don’t lose him to the medication. For us, medication was the right thing. But that’s the point, right? Medication should not be a blanket prescription for every child that displays AD(H)D like symptoms or receives that kind of diagnosis. Medication should be given on a case-by-case basis. There were times when even the medication didn’t help. There have been times when I have had to yell at teachers, doctors and administrators to get Jeffrey what he needs to succeed.
I don’t want to thrust upon society a child that is so doped up he can’t function.
My goal is to offer to the altar of life a child that can cope with what the world throws at him and to prepare him to be a successful, contributing adult in society.
For him, those goals will be reached with the help of medication.
But this is just my story. Everyone is different. Everyone is unique. That’s what makes this planet we call home so interesting. Take my story or trash it. Either way, that’s up to you. But remember this: while the options to not medicate are out there, and they are good options, you want to make sure that you make your children’s formative years as smooth as possible. In my mind, I don’t know why I would have my child battling numerous battles on different fronts (socialization/education/autism/AD(H)D), when I can wean that down for him to manageable battles on manageable fronts.
But my child is unique. His is a special case. He was not diagnosed with AD(H)D but autism. That brings a whole different set of challenges. But I wanted to share my story with all of you in the hopes that you would realize that there are reasons that some of us decide to medicate.
And, yes, we’re alright with that choice.