Monday, January 30, 2012
He's Not Smiling Much
This evening our home was hit by what some might categorize as an F1 tornado…no real structural damage but it certainly shifted our belongings around with the sound of a freight train. Of course, I’m not referring to an off-season catastrophic meteorological event, rather one of my 5 year old son’s “tantrums”. I hesitate to use that word…”tantrum”. To me, it suggests that such behavior is performed by a spoiled little baby. From the outside that may very well appear to be the case. In my heart, however, and based on multiple visits to various counselors and doctors, I know that not to be true.
Tonight my son was attempting to interact with his brother and after meeting typical sibling rejection, I watched him literally fly down the stairs, somehow successfully taking at least three steps at a time, screaming incomprehensible phrases, landing in my husband’s lap, bucking his body as though he were possessed with multiple demons…I would not have been surprised to see his stinky ass levitate 5 feet in the air. (Just yesterday the gentleman attempted a $20 bet that a slight swab of Holy water across the child’s forehead would lead to instant blisters and steam. Don’t think I didn’t strategically stroke his temples with my freshly dipped fingers after settling into our pew just to see! Nothin’.)
It took 20 minutes of swaddling restraint this evening to get him calmed to the point he was no longer offering a reverse head-butt to his father and could actually hear our voices. Literally three minutes later, after being sent up to his room to don PJs and brush teeth, he ever-so-calmly (and very clearly off task) returned downstairs still in his clothes with a tiny container of soapy liquid…gingerly blowing sweet bubbles through the living room, full of smiles, using an inside-voice like nobody’s business and seemingly incapable of hurting a fly. Fast forward another ten minutes and he was again a bucking bronco, speaking in tongues, accusing me of hating him and stealing all of his belongings. The usual.
I fear we have hit the dreaded plateau of inefficacy with pharmaceutical treatment attempt #4. Almost two years ago the gentleman and I began to realize that he was a little more rambunctious than most. Well…let’s back up...we realized that about FOUR years ago but began to notice a significant stratification between he and his classmates two years ago when he was preparing for Pre-Kindergarten. We spent a grueling Pre-K year communicating with his amazingly gracious teacher literally on a daily basis, attempting every known behavior modification tool found in books, online and from friends who found success. To no avail. Although we hated to admit it, the look in the teacher’s eyes told us what we already knew…it was time to seek medical/behavioral advice. What I wasn’t prepared for was the reaction I would receive from our pediatrician’s office after finally deciding to take the step toward evaluation.
Me: “My husband and I would like to see about a behavioral evaluation for our...”
Nurse: “Ah…you think your kid has ADHD and want to get medication. First you’ll have to fill out the Connors…”
Me: “What? Wait…no! I don’t know WHAT my son has, if anything at all, and I most certainly don’t want to medicate him!”
(We obviously didn’t stick with THAT doctor long.)
Really? Was my response truly that atypical? Is that really what most parents call for...skip the small talk and toss me the Ritalin? I had no idea if we were dealing with Aspergers, ADHD, bipolar disorder…no clue, still not entirely sure. I just knew that I was worried about my little man and unfortunately was entirely disappointed with the “help” we were getting so far.
He was eventually evaluated by both his pediatrician and a psychologist who determined, without officially diagnosing him, that we were likely dealing with a combination of ADHD and Depression. How can a four year old be “depressed”? But it all began to make sense. I flashed back to multiple conversations with the teacher indicating he didn’t seem happy, he doesn’t socialize, he never smiles, he doesn’t enjoy classroom playtime. This was all so new to us…our older two children were very well-adjusted, pleasant, and extremely engaged children in the classroom. Were we dealing with bratty third-child issues? Or were we over-compensating in discipline, fearful of the potential of third child syndrome leading to total backfire? I literally made myself crazy with this. I didn’t think I really “believed” in ADHD, if that makes sense. Having a degree in Social Work and having spent several years working with children, I had seen my fair share of the over-diagnosis of ADHD. To have my own son on the podium awarded with such a badge had me feeling a little defensive. But a year and a half of counseling and an official diagnosis later, I’ve come to terms with it.
I realize that we are extremely lucky parents…that we could instead be dealing with devastatingly severe health issues. But he’s my son. He’s supposed to be a happy five (almost six) year old boy, enjoying school and friends and playtime. Instead, we have been back and forth with medication and counselors, hitting what I thought was a low resulting in his declaration that he should kill himself after a heated argument with his sister. A swift halt of ineffective medication, another visit to the doctor, and subsequent prescription later, I am once again reading his teacher’s words “He’s not smiling much”. We are now back to paranoid accusatory statements, declarations that everyone hates him, distaste for school in general for fear of rejection by his classmates…again, the usual.
I see through the conniption that he wants to be good, that he wants to enjoy life. His sad little eyes break my heart. There is a sweet innocent boy inside but I feel like I’m the only one who can see him buried in there. I hate that we are relying on trial and error with chemicals to pull him out. I hate that very few people seem to get him like I do…few who can bring a genuine smile to his face. I live to see that baby smile.