As you may know I have three kids, two boys and a girl. My first encounter with Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder was not very enlightening. At that time there was very little literature available in hard copy form and we could not do any online research regarding ADHD as there was limited internet access. I was called in by the principal and asked to have an assessment done (for my son) at an educational psychologist. I was hesitant but I took the advice of the Principal and teachers and took my son to a paediatrician who was able to do the assessment at that time. The paediatrician to my knowledge did a full assessment and said that my son was not ADHD and was quite bright. I took that report back to the school he attended, and they reluctantly accepted it.
After a few years of back and forth with teachers a second assessment was done. This time it was performed by an educational psychologist, again at the request of a new Principal at a new school he was attending. I remember thinking this cannot be a coincidence that two different principals see the same thing. But, yet again, the results were not fully conclusive. The psychologist said that he could not say for sure that he had ADHD but, we were asked to put him on Ritalin for a month and see if it helped him. To our amazement he was a completely different child so much so that his marks began to improve, and his teacher praised him constantly.
This was a turning point for me. I didn’t fully understand ADHD so I started doing some research regarding this. A few years later my second son was in grade 3 and I was called in by the teacher who suggested he also start on Ritalin. This time I was quite surprised because he is quite a calm and quiet or mild natured child. Little did I understand then that ADHD often presented itself in many different forms. In his case he was not at all loud, active, or disturbing the class in anyway. Instead, he was quietly playing with pencils and rollups pretending they were little toys. He was barely listening in class while the teacher was teaching therefore did not fully grasp the concepts and could not complete the given task.
This time I did not go to an educational psychologist or paediatrician I simply went to my General Practitioner who agreed with the teacher and started him on Ritalin. So now I had both boys on Ritalin. Ritalin must be administered twice a day. We had to give them one tablet in the morning before school and leave one pack of medication with the teacher to administer at lunch break.
When we decided to home-school I prayed and trusted God and decided they would not need any medication because I would give them one on one attention and we would be just fine. Eventually after a few months I could see my kids were not performing at their best. We decided to use medication but this time we used Concerta which is a slow-release tablet and needed only once a day once again. For my second son I went a more holistic approach and bought an herbal concentration tablet but saw very little improvement. I knew I was just fooling myself thinking it was working. We eventually came to a point of frustration and with the GPs advice I decided to start him on a mild dose of Ritalin once again, just enough to get him through a morning of work. This did not last either.
Finally, when he started grade 8 this year, I spoke to the GP about increasing and changing his medication to the same Concerta brand that my eldest son was taking. I also spoke with my husband and decided he needed a formal educational assessment, since he had never been formally assessed. I eventually went to an educational psychologist who met with me first to hear the history of the child. This detailed history started at the time of my pregnancy, if he was a premature baby or normal date, if there was any stress during or after birth. I did not realise this all played a huge part in a child’s brain function and development.
Fortunately, there were no serious medical issues. The psychologist then met my son and did a three-hour full assessment with him. There were various tests done from Numerical to Verbal, Language to understanding concepts. To our surprise he was professionally diagnosed with a very high global IQ but struggled with some issues. He is naturally a very slow worker. That was not a surprise to me at all. I often must urge him on to complete his task. A week after the test were completed the psychologist met with me again to explain the results of the test she administered. I learnt more about ADHD in this session. ADHD is part of an extremely broad spectrum of the neurological system which sometimes overlaps with autism, dyslexia, and other serious learning disabilities. In my sons’ case the current medication he was taking was sufficient and he was performing at his correct levels for his age. I was advised to keep him on the same medication. ADHD is also more prevalent in boys than girls. It is also hereditary in most cases. I was also advised to get a classroom timer which will assist him with completing his task on time. He fortunately did not have any form of autism or learning disability.
I have learnt from this experience that no two children are the same. Yes, both my sons have ADHD but in such different forms. My advice would be to invest in getting your child thoroughly assessed instead of guessing with regards to diagnosis and medication. It will bring you peace of mind knowing a professional has done the assessment and you will be able to administer the correct medication as well as the correct dosage.
Some of the side effects my kids experience is lack of appetite especially at lunch time. I make sure they have a healthy nutritious breakfast. The other is restlessness at night. I encourage them to pray and read their bible. I also make sure the house is quiet, calm and I use a diffuser with essential oils before bed.
I still wake up every morning praying over my kids. Trusting God that he would guide me regarding every decision. Do I want to medicate my kids? No. Do I think medication helps them to achieve their best? Definitely, Yes! Fact is God is in control.
I recently read a profound article and shared it with my husband. It confirmed to me that we are making the right choices for our family. The writer who was diagnosed with ADHD in his late thirties said, “I’ve had pangs of resentment since the diagnosis especially when I cast my mind back to wasted years and unfulfilled potential. Why didn’t my teachers notice something? Reading my school reports, it seems obvious I had ADHD. Different times, I guess?”
Deborah Pretorius is a mother of 3 kids and a BCom graduate on the amazing adventure of home schooling her family.