This blog is not FDA approved
Bizzbuzz came to me in my very first year of teaching. He had next to zero impulse control. Called out constantly. A frustrated temper that flared. Poor printing skills. Great fidgeting skills. Minimal attention span when sitting and listening to a lesson. Even less when required to sit in a desk to complete any sort of pencil-paper task. He was on ADHD medication.
Let me pause for a moment for a little background and a few disclaimers.
I am certainly no expert on ADHD (though very passionate and relatively well-educated on child development, pre-frontal cortex brain function, ADHD, etc.) but have had plenty of experience working with children with ADHD/ADHD-like behaviours and those that benefit from strategies devised for helping students with ADHD.
My writing below is only one perspective about two students and their families. It is not written to place blame, sole responsibility, or wrong-doing on anyone. I do not deign to tell anyone what to do or criticize choices any parent, teacher, student, has made.
There may be plenty that you disagree or agree with in the following stories. If there is ONE thing I hope others can take from this, it is that each child, teacher, principal, psychologist, doctor, experience, should be looked upon with fresh eyes. ADHD is not a black-and-white issue and, therefore, its treatment cannot be either.
Enjoy the stories of two students and families that will reside in my heart forever!
Near the beginning of the year, Mom and Dad and I discussed his history regarding behaviour, academics, strategies, and medication trials. They were in the process of starting a new trial of medication in October-ish. After it had weeks to settle in, Bizzbuzz was still pretty unfocused, still got frustrated, and didn’t sit still too often. He was aware of what his medication was and what it was for – it soon became a crutch for him. If he didn’t take them in the morning, he blamed his behaviour for missing a pill. If he did take the pill, he blamed his behaviour of his mind spinning in circles. Lucky for Bizzbuzz, he was a pretty mentally and emotionally mature Grade 5 student. He was able to describe to me that he didn’t sleep well, had strange dreams, his mouth was dry all the time. In phone calls, notes, and meetings, his parents confirmed much of this and shared about his lack of appetite and subsequent weight loss. Bizzbuzz could explain how it felt like his thoughts were whirling around at top speed. He couldn’t sort them out and his mind felt clouded. Of any student I’ve had since, Bizzbuzz is still the most succinct and able to talk about his personal experiences and metacognition.
The combination of all of this led his parents to talk to their doctor and to me prior to discontinuing use of medication. No, it wasn’t necessary for them to confer with me first, but I will forevermore remember them with respect for their actions that demonstrated the care and passion they had for their son’s future success and happiness. The pros of the meds at home and at school were not outweighing the cons. The pros were difficult to even ascertain. We discussed when his medication would cease and what new, as well as continued, strategies would be put into place in the classroom and at home to monitor Bizzbuzz’s changes, challenges, successes. We sat down with Bizzbuzz to discuss it also. He was a mature enough child to feel empowered by having the control put more into his hands than in a pill’s. He also realized he wouldn’t be blaming his challenges or successes on a pill but rather on himself with the support of his family and school.
As a team of student, parent, teacher, and doctor, we opted to try medication – it wasn’t the right choice for Bizzbuzz. That same team opted for a different plan. Bizzbuzz still had difficulty sitting still, working at his desk, controlling his verbal outbursts, and still got frustrated with his own behaviour that he had difficulty controlling. But he was taking charge, he was participating in creating and performing strategies to adapt his behaviours.
The light and life came back to Bizzbuzz and the year continued to be a challenge for us all. I expect Bizzbuzz, family, and teacher do and will continue to deal with it daily. It’s very possible the family tried different medication trials in the future in an attempt to find one with plenty of pros and few cons. I am certain Mom and Dad made efforts to communicate regularly with school staff to get the best all-round support for Bizzbuzz. I’ll always remember how impressively introspective Bizzbuzz was and how much my heart sang with every new avenue his parents tried and how openly they listened to and talked with school staff.
Bizzbuzz is my “go-to” example of how ADHD medication didn’t work. Bizzbuzz’s success came down to doctor, parents, student, and school staff keeping communication lines open and being willing to try a variety of strategies.
Spitfire, however, it my “go-to” example of how ADHD medication flipped a student, teacher, school, and class of peers from frustration to finesse.
Spitfire was just that. She vibrated with energy, zest for life, laughter. She didn’t walk, she bounced. Didn’t talk, she sang. Didn’t sit, she jiggled. She didn’t read, she counted the 500 + books of the classroom library. She didn’t write, she found gidgets and gadgets in her desk to entertain herself. Not a lick of work. Not a hand up to share answers in a class discussion, not a role played in small group work. In fact, it got to where she couldn’t get a small group. Or even a partner. Even her friends didn’t want to work with her. Or play with her at lunch or recess. She got to be too volatile. She did NO-THING. Her classmates didn’t want to babysit in class, they actually wanted to work. She was frustrated and hurting too. She knew why no one wanted to spend time with her, but couldn’t help herself. She came to me crying and broken-hearted that she was too much for others – and herself – to handle.
It was time to get Dad in. Spitfire’s family support was not like Bizzbuzz’s. Her dad did the best he could as a single parent working full-time to support four sons and his one Spitfire daughter. Her school and personal histories wer not the smoothest one could hope for for a sweet gal like this one. Each school year medication came and went for her and her little brother, Cheeky Chipmunk. Dad had good reason – it impacted their appetite, sometimes their sleep, and he didn’t see a significant difference in behaviour on or off medication at home. Every summer, and often Christmas and Spring Break, he would stop the medication. When he came into the school to meet with myself and Cheeky Chipmunk’s teacher not too far into the school year, he was very open about what he saw at home, what his reasons were, how he hoped a new school year might show some new maturation in the kids. He also trustest our observations, judgements, and utmost care for his childrens’ success and happiness.
And so, back to the doctor Dad took them for a prescription with school staff aware of the start date and a future meeting time to review the outcomes with Dad and kids. Boy, did she get a lot done in those first five days. She wrote more than she had in the previous two months of school all put together. She read more, put up her hand, printed legibly, was a partner that pulled her load. She was also an empty shell of herself. Spitfire had disappeared. In her place was a complacent, dull, quiet, obedient, zoned-out little doll. If I didn’t know what I did about how ANY medication needs to be allowed time, I’d have had Spitfire off those meds before the week was out.
But, I knew, realistically, that she needed a solid six weeks to be fair. Still, I wasn’t prepared to allow what made Spitfire Spitfire to be squelched for the sake of a few sentences on paper. I watched her closely that first week, and even closer in the second. She was coming back to life. The light began to shine again. I continued to watch. Spitfire’s body, brain, and medication sorted itself in the coming weeks and her personality resurfaced full of spritz, glee, and cheer. In control and in balance. She was full of life – and smarts. She could share her ideas, knowledge, and skills with friends, family, and adults. She could work together with partners and friends. It wasn’t perfect – she did have a decrease in appetite, but Dad and I watched her weight, and we ensured she ate at home and school. In this case, the pros WAY outweighed the cons. She was happy as a student and as a friend. She was proud and successful. She also had the self-awareness to recognize the differences in herself academically, socially, and mentally when on or off medication.
For Spitfire, on well-chosen, properly balanced medication, the world and future was her oyster – she had the intelligence, motivation, skills, and joy to do anything she wanted to. Without it, I worry for her academic future and her strength to avoid the wrong path. For her sake, I hope Dad, teachers, and Spitfire herself, stick with medication as long as it continues to offer her the support it does.
Bizzbuzz and Spitfire are my most “black and white” examples of ADHD, medication, and teamwork. I’ve plenty of other experiences that continue to inform my teaching and interactions with students, parents, assessments, colleagues, friends, and family on a daily basis.
I’m extrememly passionate about the learning, health, and safety – in all conceivable ways - for my students and their families. Everything I do is in the best interest of my students’ overall well-being - whether it be to recommend an assessment, encourage a doctor-controlled medication trial or stoppage, or to help secure other in-school or out-of-school supports. I have to believe that the large, large majority of my fellow teachers are the same.
From a teacher’s perspective, parents, my counsel to you is this:
* If your child’s teacher wants to meet with you, asks you to complete a SNAP or similar behaviour checklist, or recommends external assessments, please go into the experience with faith in the teacher’s interest in your child’s well-being.
* Please consider that school is a differently structured environment with one adult and 20 or more other students – very different expectations, routines, and time frames than at home. Children, and adults alike, behave differently in different environments. A day at Grandma’s is different than a birthday party with friends – even young kids adapt their behaviours. It’s possible your child is reacting to the school environment in a way you’d never fathom.
* Teachers spend five or so hours with your child five days a week. We’re always watching and listening and noting statements, behaviours, changes in our students – positive and negative. We don’t know your child better than you do, we simply know him or her differently than you do.
* Don’t blindly do what a teacher, principal, doctor, or anyone else suggests you do – don’t blindly discount any of their suggestions either.
* Be willing to share information, especially changes - a divorce, change in job, moving house, death of a pet or family member, new pet or baby, etc. Your child may appear to be adjusting and behaving as usual at home, but it may not be the case at school. Teachers may see changes but not know why and, therefore, not know how to help or what the cause for change may be. If we know, we can support you and your child, we can also pass information back to you.
* Just like parenting is a job that never ends, teaching has a way of becoming that way too. We feel connected to “our” children and their development. Many parents out there will say, “It’s the dad/mom in me” – same goes for teachers. It doesn’t just “turn off” when we leave the classroom.
* I’m not endorsing medication. I am not endorsing lack of medication. I am endorsing the individual child. I fully believe in the success and choices in each of my above stories. For one, medication worked, for another, it didn’t. I don’t believe a black and white approach is the way to go. All medications come with risks (even a simple Tylenol for a headache) – brain chemistry changes, hormone level changes, side effects up the ying yang – but sometimes it’s the best choice at the moment. Not taking medication also comes with risks – not learning, losing friends, decreases in self-confidence. Every child, home, classroom, teacher, academic capabilities, life is different. Every child deserves to be considered on their own merits and given his or her best shot – whether it be a medication trial or not.
If there is any ONE tiny nugget that anyone takes from this -
Be open to all possibilities. Be open to free-flowing communication back-and-forth between home and school. Be open to a plan that will work for one of your children yet maybe not the other. Be Open.