July 9, 2010 by Marj Hatzell
Yesterday was a decent day. Kids were happy, the heat wave “broke” (from 102 to 87! WOO!) and I got to actually read a book and talk to adults. Adult conversation! WITH OTHER MOMS! I felt normal! Great! Went swimming with Bug Boy! Did a flip off the dive! (ok, maybe that wasn’t the smartest idea. Hadn’t done it in 20 years and I now remember why. OUCHY.)
We left the pool in time to meet Bugaboo’s bus. I didn’t get a nap, but since I’m eating better these days (meaning, no junk food for snacks and eating tons of fruits and veggies!) I haven’t been so lethargic. And with Bugaboo sleeping 12 hours a night again I’ve had much more energy.
The usual routine is this: I wake up, get dressed, wake up husband, let dogs out, feed ’em, let them out again, wake up husband, get Bugaboo’s meds ready, wake him up, wake up husband (again), get Bugaboo dressed, feed him, wake husband (BIG BEN. PARLIAMENT.), get him on bus, wake Bug Boy, shove husband out the door late, give Bug Boy meds, let dogs out, let dogs in, take Bug Boy to various summer activities, get home in time for Bugaboo’s bus, give him meds, give Bug Boy meds, start dinner, take kids to pool, return home, serve dinner, baths, meds, beds, Mommy passes out. Sometimes after a choice adult beverage.
Here’s the tough part: If you want the meds to work, you have to actually GIVE THEM TO YOUR CHILDREN. You cannot forget them, mmmkay? Let’s just say last night was a wee bit difficult. And perhaps I may or may not have forgotten to give the afternoon dose. That may or may not have resulted in major issues with impulse control, stimming and OCD. Whoopsy.
Now, Let’s back up. The decision to medicate our children was a tough one. We did eveyrthing else first. Funky therapies. Behavioural therapies. Social skills groups. OT/PT/SLT. Ridiculous diets (because, HFCS and food dye and additives cause ADHD. Uh huh.*), chiropractic care. Home-based therapy with wraparound, DIR, ABA, VB, you name it. Basically everything but chelation.
Their neurologist is a D.O. He’s big on trying everything else first. But he also realizes that sometimes there is a time and place for meds. Like when my kids were having seizures? And had to have sleep studies? Because they weren’t getting enough oxygen to their little brains and so they had WORSE seizures and slept less and got even less oxygen to their brains? NO BRAINER (no pun intended. Ok, it totally was). We gave them the seizure meds. And they improved by leaps and bounds. WIN!
Chronic ear infections? No brainer! Tubes, three times each kid plus antibiotics, reflux meds (it was discovered that this was the reason my kids got so many ear infections) and allergy meds. Case closed! No more ear infections! It’s so infrequent now that we are on a consult-only basis with the ENTs.
Same with the GI’s, Cardiologist (HOLLAH!) and feeding clinic. Things slowly improved. Wanna know why Bugaboo never ate? His reflux burned his throat so badly he couldn’t swallow without pain. He couldn’t feel his esophagus. And then he couldn’t go to the bathroom. So he didn’t eat. So we gave him meds to stop the reflux and help him go to the bathroom. And he started eating! MIRACLE! Then we faded the meds. He’s off of them now.
So we took care of the medical problems. What about the Neurological ones?
Well, Neuro problems ARE medical problems. Thing is, most people don’t see it that way. They think that giving kids meds for NEUROLOGICAL, BRAIN-BASED disorders is a no-no. They think it is “over-medicating” or “bad for their kids” or “they just need more discipline/structure/sleep”. And then they struggle. And their kids struggle. And they feel bad about their parenting and their kids feel badly about themselves. And then there is MORE depression and MORE heartache. It just keeps snowballing.
I know. I’ve BEEN there. I did this. I blamed myself. I allowed others to call my kids spoiled brats. I had well-meaning family members ask me why I didn’t just discipline them (aka – spank). Because spanking disabled children is a perfectly acceptable practice.
One day we were at the Neuro. He’s totally awesome. And cute. And single. I think. But I digress. Where was I? Yes. He’s a very qualified and gifted doctor. And he said, “You know. Why are you avoiding the meds? Because of your own feelings or because you are truly concerned for your child?” And I thought about it. I’m a selfish b*tch, yo. I was EMBARRASSED. I didn’t want them on meds because I felt like a failure. Because everyone on the planet (or so I thought) would think I was a bad parent. That I took the easy way out. That I was letting myself and my kids down.
It had nothing at all to do with my kids. It was ME.
So, he sent me home to do research. And we tried this and that. Sometimes this worked. Usually that didn’t. And we finally settled on a stimulant (after speaking with the Cardio and Neuro so that we don’t’ start with heart issues and seizures again) and an anti-anxiety med for each kid. And a sleep med for Bugaboo.
And guess what?
In two years, our lives have improved dramatically. My kids are now successful at school. THEY ARE LEARNING. They are happier. They are thriving. Homework isn’t a 2-hour screaming match like it once was. They can sit and play with their toys. THEY SIT AND PLAY WITH TOYS. Bugaboo can sit through a meal. At a restaurant. HE SITS IN A RESTAURANT. Hello! Now I feel guilty for not trying them before! I resisted at all costs. And the cost was my children.
Are meds perfect? No. Are they for every child with a problem? NO. Does it take a while before you find the right one and sometimes you feel like giving up? Yes. But my kids are worth it. Our family is worth it. We deserve to be happy, just like everyone else. My kids deserve to be as much like everyone else as possible. They will NEVER be normal. But they will be pretty darn awesome anyway. That is, if I give them the tools to help them succeed. This is the way I look at it. My kids have a brain-based medical disorder (actually, several of them). The treatment sometimes requires medication (a tool). If they were diabetic, I certainly wouldn’t balk at giving them insulin. If they had a serious infection I wouldn’t withhold an antibiotic. If they were still having seizures I wouldn’t refuse to treat them. So why do people refuse to medicate children for mental illness, neurological conditions and behavioural problems? My kids have autism. They have ADHD. They have OCD and anxiety. They are most likely bipolar. Not treating those medically is like telling them they have to suffer through a cold or allergies without medications. It isn’t fair.
Here’s the thing: studies show that not medicating bona fide neurological conditions like ADHD and OCD and the like actually lead to SELF-MEDICATION. When these kids are teens? They are out of control. They have not impulse control. They engage in risky behaviours, like promiscuity, drugs, alcohol, you name it. They don’t do it because they are bad. They don’t do it from lack of discipline. They do it because of lack of appropriate treatments for their problems. They are looking to feel better because their fragile brains are out of control. No amount of telling them to suck it up, grow up, snap out of it is going to work. And then they become adults. Who self-medicate. Who cannot hold down jobs, who struggle to build a life, who live with their parents after a bad divorce and an bad almost-second-marriage. Who lose every job they’ve ever had. Until one day they get a wake-up call and say, “How did I get here???” And struggle to build themselves a life. I know because my brother went through this. He’s still going through this. And I watch others go through this every single day because people don’t take mental and neurological disorders seriously. There is embarrassment and shame. I just don’t get that.
Looky. Here’s my take on it. My kids have these issues. They also have feet and hair and freckles (IRISH!) and skinny legs and thick hair. I consider it a part of who they are. I also consider it something we can treat and overcome. There is no shame in it. If I need to get on a mountain box and tell folks, “HEY. SOMETIMES DRUGS ARE GOOD FOR YOU.” I will. Now, I’ll admit there are side-effects to medications. But they way I see it is there are side-effects to NOT taking medications. The side-effects being that my kids will end up institutionalized because their problems will get so out of control that they will eventually become unreachable. I’m not willing to let that happen.
Okey dokey, I’m off my soapbox now. And I’m staying off of the autism parent message boards and websites, honest. Not that reading them contributed to my writing this post IN ANY WAY OR ANYTHING. NOPE. Didn’t get all worked up reading about that nonsense AT ALL. Ahem.
*DISCLAIMER: I am not saying you should give kids food dyes, HFCS or additives. I don’t give them to my kids because I dont’ believe they should be in food, period. But we never actually give them to our kids and GUESS WHAT? Yup. Still autistic. Still ADHD. Just sayin’.