What is ADHD? A few years ago I had no idea what that stood for (Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity) and had never heard of it. But I found out I had a beautiful little boy dealing with it.
Some days Alex was fine, what you might call a normal boy. Most days were hectic. One child felt like one thousand. He was all over the place, starting one thing and never finishing, just jumping to the next.
There were times when Alex would cry for no reason. In school, he would pick up objects and hit other children, just out of the blue. Once we were at a hair salon and he decided to hit the neon light with a key chain until it broke. Not only did I have to pay the owner back, but sitting there, I could have sworn I heard what people were thinking: “She has no control over that child.” I couldn’t understand why he would do such a thing.
Alex was about 4 then. I knew that for his age, certain behaviors were not normal. I was completely convinced something was wrong and when he cried I did too. We were both frustrated, upset, confused and lost.
Determined to Find Help
I was convinced it was my fault. Alex was my first child and I was young and scared. This was my first time ever dealing with a little human being. I thought, “Did I do something wrong? Am I forgetting some type of motherly love? Maybe I’m not spending enough time with him, or someone hurt him and he doesn’t know how to tell me.”
I had to get him help. I told my son’s doctor, “Alex cries for no reason, he can’t stay still at all. He’s been aggressive in class.” I was afraid that I would be looked at as a crazy person, but the doctor told me Alex had ADHD. He said I was not the only parent dealing with this problem, and there was help.
I was relieved to know there was a name for what was controlling my son and upsetting me. I was determined to find help.
Searching for Options
Unfortunately, every doctor wanted to dig a pill down my child’s throat. The medication they wanted Alex to take sounded very scary. I kept thinking, “What if there are long-term side affects?” That wasn’t the treatment I wanted for my child.
Instead of a pill that my son would grow dependent on, or that would cause other problems, I wanted to really understand what his little innocent mind was going through and why he was feeling the way he was.
I needed information. I started educating myself about ADHD by reading books, going on the Internet and picking up some booklets at the hospital.
Finally I met a doctor who listened to me. She met with us a few times and took time to talk with Alex in a playful way. She spoke to him about things he was interested in, like cartoons and certain toys that were in style, and played with some toys with him. Alex enjoyed her company.
When she put all her focus on Alex, it was like he let her in his mind for a moment. Alex was very open to her questions and responded with excitement, telling her everything in his imagination as if he was talking to another child. We both noticed he was very bright, curious and talkative when he was comfortable.
Information and Support
The doctor explained all the options-further testing, medication, support groups (for me) and family therapy. She also suggested some reading material to me, which was very helpful. It gave tips on how to talk to him and how to understand his actions. For instance, I found out that children with ADHD need you to make a lot of eye contact in order to get their full attention, and they constantly need praise to encourage their good behavior.
I had a clear view of the treatment I wanted for Alex. By attending play therapy weekly with me, I knew that he could improve his focus and grow a longer attention span. So I made a definite decision that Alex would not take any medication, not even a taste.
Instead, I searched for play therapy sessions. The material the doctor had given me included some phone numbers of organizations that held meetings for parents of children with ADHD. I started with that, and then asked around in my neighborhood.
It took a while, and lot of disappointments, but finally I found the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, and it was a success. Attending therapy at the Center has helped Alex remarkably.
‘Hear Your Child Out’
By the time I entered those doors, I was exhausted from searching but I felt good about this place. Meeting the therapist, Melissa, was amazing. She was young, and her room was bright and not a drag-it was filled with toys and felt like home, not a doctor’s office.
She got to understand Alex by meeting with me first. We spoke about his history, what he likes and doesn’t like, and what changes I would like to see in my son. Then she started meeting with Alex and me.
Right away I saw changes in Alex. In her office, he was outspoken with his opinions. He would walk through her room and tell Melissa what he wanted to do that day.
Before we went to family therapy, I saw him as just a child who couldn’t understand the adult world. I treated him almost like he would never get older or grow up, so I didn’t pay close attention to what he said or to the signs of how he was developing.
Melissa showed me how important it is to hear a child out, to really try to understand what children are expressing, even if they’re just crying, and to explain things to your child. When I started listening to Alex closely, I realized that he’s his own person trying to understand the world, and that I can prepare him to make decisions of his own one day.
A Big Change
Melissa gave me so many techniques to try with Alex. She recommended I keep a calendar for Alex and me so he would know ahead of time when I would work and when he would see Melissa. At first it didn’t work, maybe because he was too little or because my schedule kept changing, but it does now. I tell Alex when I work and who will pick him up from school.
Being a first time mother, I was overwhelmed with all the information and a lot of it took a long time to fully understand. But Alex is the most important thing in my life and getting him the right treatment was very important to me.
After we spent a year and a half getting really close to Melissa, she told me that she was leaving the Center because she was pregnant. I was in shock. Once again I felt lost and alone. I also feared that Alex wouldn’t understand.
We decided to tell him in a very cheerful manner, saying, “Melissa is having a baby and now she has to take care of the baby.” Alex didn’t really show any expression but he wondered who the new therapist would be.
I thought that Alex would have a hard time with this new transition but he took it very well. When we met Jill, it was like we knew her already. In some ways she was hipper, more like Alex, and he took a liking to her right away.
Alex is now 8 years old and still loves visiting Jill. He looks forward to all the activities she has in mind for him. Best of all, I get to meet with her, too.
Sticking to Routine
Jill gives Alex choices and gives him the opportunity to share his opinions or just what is on his mind. I now plan his day so his mind doesn’t have to wander and worry. Sticking to a routine-just basics like getting up at the same time in the morning, getting ready for school, knowing what to expect after school and what things need to get done-helps him stay calm and focused. Alex now knows how to start something and finish, even if that means Mom has to remind him.
What I enjoy most is speaking to him and hearing how his day was in school or what happened between his friends. His imagination is the most precious thing.
Treatment Helped My Son and Me
When I looked to the doctors for help, I was overwhelmed. The doctors spoke to me as if I was a child. I guess because I was a young mother they assumed I wouldn’t understand. They wanted to tell me what to do without explaining all the options.
I’m glad I stood up for myself and dug up information about my son’s condition on my own. Understanding ADHD better gave me the confidence to ask the doctors tougher questions, and led me to treatment that’s helped my son and me.
Jill and I found a solution for Alex-we used his hyperactivity for positive things. With her help, I have seen Alex change a lot. Sometimes I smiled, other days I cried, feeling like I didn’t even know my child, like there was some blockage between us. There was: ADHD.
Now there is no longer a blockage between us because we have learned how to live comfortably with each other. Alex will always have to battle ADHD but now we both know how to deal with it.
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