On Little Boys and ADD/ADHD: A candid look on a tired debate

I didn’t want to do it. My husband didn’t want me to do it. Some of our extended family still question it. Even our pediatrician let out an audible sigh when he admitted it was time.

It was time to start my eight-year-old, a third grader, on ADHD meds.

As I looked around the compact examining room, I eyed the juvenile artwork hanging above the examining table. I felt exactly like those multi-colored scribbles, the jagged, unsteady lines cross-crossing haphazardly over the print. It was beautiful in a way; it was equally chaotic.

Our pediatrician and I discussed different drugs that would meet our goals, the appropriate dosages to try first, the side effects to watch for. Though he proved patient and kind and sat with me in that little room for nearly an hour answering every question and devil’s advocate scenario I presented, I still felt oddly alone. The weight of the situation bared down as I realized no one could else could help me here. I couldn’t delegate; no one was coming to stand in and tell me what to do. I also felt that it would be inappropriate to poll our friends and family for their opinions. It’s just too touchy of a debate, and no one outside of our immediate family of five adequately understands the nuances of our family dynamic anyway.  Only I was equipped to make the call.

So, on a Friday morning shortly before Christmas, my first-born (in his shorts and t-shirt– this is Texas in December after all) and I headed down to the parking garage with a plan in hand. I felt excited, anxious, defensive, and a million other responses I couldn’t quite articulate.

I don’t regret the decision yet. Not as a parent, not as a fellow teacher, even though my mind and heart aren’t in complete harmony, even now. Part of me wants to buck up, start a grass-roots campaign calling attention to western education and the shove towards standardized testing and standardized education. This movement transforms students like my son away from their natural, eight-year-old boy tendencies into statues who are able to sit and robotically perform practice exercises for prolonged periods of time. The old adage “Boys will be boys” comes to mind. Maybe my son isn’t really ADHD; maybe he’s just a little boy exercising his God-given tendencies. (Note: I, in no way, accuse our current children’s teachers of failing to meet our students’ needs. We are SO BLESSED to have educators who defy the odds, make learning fun, and differentiate instruction to meet each individual students’ needs. Still, their efforts to achieve all of this most often require their superhero capes and a lot of prayer because of the current trends in our educational system. And as amazing as our teachers are, they’re still forced to work within the confines of such a system.)

The other part of me, the voice of reason that won over in the end, realizes my personal opinion on the state of our educational system’s affairs won’t help my son be successful in his classroom. I am a public school educator myself. Naturally, my own children will most likely complete their grade school education in a public school setting. Regardless of how I feel personally, my son needs to be able to function in a public school setting. He is one among many in his class. When his teacher needs him to sit still and remain quiet so she can direct teach or so other students can themselves concentrate, then he’ll need the medicinal help to make that happen.

He isn’t a boy who is merely misbehaving. He isn’t in need of a nice stern spanking; my husband and I are in agreeance of using well-timed, appropriately handled swats on the behind. His teacher isn’t failing to challenge him. He is eager to learn and eager to please, and I am willing to get him the help he needs to reach his “little-boy-in-a-public-school” potential.

Even if that means introducing a long-term drug into the family. It’s not what we expected when we cradled our sweet, shockingly observant newborn in our arms that first day of parenthood. But it’s become our new norm. That is the sign we’re making it as parents– our ability to adjust and accept life’s curveballs and create whatever new norm is best for our children.

We hit the curveball this time, and our son is better for it.

A typical entry in my third grader's school agenda.

A typical entry in my third grader’s school agenda.

Note the change in handwriting-- after only two weeks on meds.

Note the change in handwriting– noticeable immediately after starting meds.

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