The last few weeks have brought several articles on ADHD and its impact on kids. SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) had a news release on how it plans to alert pediatricians on the similarities of ADHD and gifted traits (and for this I am grateful). The New York Times released a controversial opinion piece on how ADHD drugs don’t work long term, and the Times’ Motherlode blog replied with a thoughtful post. Finally, the Wall Street Journal’s article on Ritalin and creativity suggested that creativity is greatly dampened by ADHD medications.
Well. Great. More noise about ADHD and how it is over-diagnosed and over-prescribed and not a danged thing on what to do about it. Drives me batsnot crazy. See, our 2e son has ADHD.
Or does he?
Could it simply be that he is gifted and his wiring just keeps his body moving non-stop? That school bored him to the point that he tuned out? (Um, yeah, it did…but that’s a post for a different day). That our parenting in his early years affected his brain development and thus his behavior?
Possibly, absolutely, and are you freaking kidding me?
A has always been on the move. Always. In utero he did laps until he played soccer with my kidneys. I stopped wearing shoes with laces when he was two, because I couldn’t get them on fast enough when he’d bolt from Music Together classes. When he was three I asked his pediatrician if he thought A was ADHDish. The answer was yes, but too young to make an official determination. At four we embarked on a yearlong quest to find any other reason for his hyperactivity and difficulty paying attention. Occupational therapy, vision therapy, diet changes, sleep studies, and a tonsillectomy for sleep apnea followed. All this time the curiosity intensified, and he was deemed to be twice-exceptional. At five we finally caved and put him on medication.
And saw this:
This picture means more to me than most. This was the first time my son voluntarily sat down and quietly drew out an idea he had in his head. December 2006. I still have the intricate picture he was working on.
The last five years he’s been doh-see-dohing with various medications, trying to find that delicate balance of efficacy and acceptable side effects. The biggie is loss of appetite. For me that would be awesomesauce; for my 25th percentile son it’s a very fine line. On meds he can focus enough to read, work on inventions, do school with me, has a higher frustration tolerance, and is basically easier to live with. We see the giftedness. Off meds he pings around the house and talking to him is like shouting through a waterfall. And I’m not just talking evenings; he went 18 months off meds a few years ago after some scary side effects joined forces with weight loss. He went back on last spring when it was either that or I was going to wring his neck. That’s where the other E comes out to play.
So are we medicating him simply for our benefit, to make parenting him easier? Are the medications inhibiting his creativity, his ability to express himself? Is his gifted wiring just such that he has to move nonstop and get lost in his own mind, unwilling or unable to listen to others?
Or are these articles simply noise? None of them seem to be written by a parent of an ADHD kid. Sure, it’s easy for an adult to say having ADHD as a kid made him more creative, but I bet his parent was at wits’ end most days. My job is to get this kid to adulthood in one piece, ready challenge life on his terms. If meds help get him there when everything else has failed, does that mean I have failed him? Of course not. I already beat myself up that he’s so thin because of the side effects, I don’t need that joining in.
So here’s what I want to say to all the ADHD OpEd writers (with the exception of SENG, which I think is doing the absolute right thing in raising awareness of ADHD/gifted similarities): Be quiet. Stop. Enough. You do not speak of nor represent all those who have to cope with ADHD. For some the diagnosis and medications were a last resort, and even then the second guessing doesn’t stop. I am not damaging my child by keeping him on ADHD medications, nor am I dulling his creativity. I am providing what he needs, when he needs it, to get him to where he needs to be.
The rest is just noise.