When you have children with special needs, I think there are certain things you just come to accept and expect. You accept things like spending a ridiculous amount of time in too-bright waiting rooms; you expect things like the occasional pangs you feel when a “typical” mom is bragging on her “typical” kid.
After a combined nine years working with my hooligans – who both happen to have special needs – I thought I’d braced myself pretty well for the unexpected.
But then came the Ritalin.
Action Jackson has always been my odd – albeit beautiful- bird. Other moms would be snuggling their babies close, while Jackson would wiggle and squirm away. He even rolled over during an early doctor’s appointment trying to escape the doctor. By age two, we had started early intervention and speech therapy with the red flags of Autism waving high.
Five years later, we think he floats somewhere between ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), with a splash of SPD (sensory processing disorder) for good measure. I’ve never cared which abbreviations or acronyms are attached my children, but I’ve always, always, always worried how to help the hooligans be where they need to be.
There was never any doubt in my mind the school environment would be challenging for Jackson. As mom, I know the highs and lows of every triumph and every struggle. Bright lights, loud noises, being repeatedly touched, the unexpected changes in routine … I created a list in my head nightly of where we would find roadblocks.
With no “official” diagnosis at the time but knowing early intervention would make a huge difference, I fought the school district for services. Even when we were finally accepted into the three-year-old program, many personnel insisted they could not see any problems with Jackson, which often left me feeling more than a little crazy.
The four-year-old program and kindergarten proved more challenging, and many of the behaviors we were most concerned about began to rear their ugly heads. Already on high alert from his sensory issues, a shift in schedule or simply transitioning from one activity to the next became overwhelming. He would go to extremes to try to make friends, yet his odd behaviors would often find him wanting. He lashed out at administrators, teachers and other students.
Jackson saw his first suspension in first grade after a meltdown of epic proportions. His second suspension came just this last week in second grade.
I found myself sitting in another psychiatrist’s office with my “baby” trying to answer his questions about “why are we here” without making Jackson feel inferior or less than.
How do you explain to your child they’re not functioning correctly and need medicine? Especially a child who takes things literally – metaphors and similes are an ocean of confusion.
While Jackson explored the sensory toys on the coffee table, I started crying, explaining to the doctor that we. have. tried. everything. We’ve done sensory diets, Wilbarger protocols and joint compression. We’ve used essential oils, supplements and diet changes. We’ve explored rewards, consequences and every conceivable chart. I explained it all to him. And to myself for the billionth time.
I knew why we were there. We were there for the meds because, at the end of the day, we’d exhausted all other options. Yet my hand shook and my chest tightened when the doctor put the prescription in my hand.
There it was in black and white.
I felt so much pain in that moment. I felt like I had failed as a mother.
To add to my agony, I had trouble filling the prescription because of insurance issues. Some back and forth over a week, and the medicine was in my hand.
The drug of choice for tweakers. The joke of the internet. The drug for the parents who just need to “discipline” their kid.
The plastic bottle felt heavy.
I did all the research and read all the things, realizing this small pill could mean the difference between every day being a sad struggle for my son and every day being easier and more joyful. The next morning my stomach was in knots. I called him over to take his new medicine, and had to teach him to swallow a pill. Nothing prepared me for putting it in his small hand.
No mother wants to medicate her child. I am terrified of seeing the boy I know and love disappear under a haze of meds. While his behavior is challenging (to say the least), he’s still my baby and I love him just as he is. But because I love him I want him to have the best quality of life he can possibly have – a seemingly insurmountable task with his issues.
I watched as he swished the pill around trying to make it go down. He finally swallowed, looked up at me with his mouth wide open and said, “All gone.” I hugged him tight. He squirmed away.
A week later, we think we are beginning to see the medicine work. He seems relaxed, more focused, and even had a great day at school yesterday. While I’m still quite wary of big pharma, I don’t regret the decision to start medication for him at this time. I hope he eventually learns self regulation, and discontinues the use of prescription medication altogether. In the meantime, I feel the weight shift a little. I am enjoying our time together.
For the first time in his seven years, I feel like we’re having meaningful conversations and connections. I see his light shine so clearly as – this time – he welcomes a hug.