Earlier this year, my husband and I spent countless days, weeks and months wondering whether or not our son had ADD. We wrung our hands, consulted experts, fought with our son, and I ground my teeth down to the point that I needed root canal surgery. After the diagnosis of ADD was confirmed, we breathed a sigh of relief and thought that the worst of our problems were over. We had a diagnosis and felt we could move ahead with our treatment. Problem solved, right? Well, sort of.
We began treating our son with all the wonderful tips from Dr. Bob Meyers “Total Focus” workbook, which lists many helpful hints for children with ADD/ADHD. Many of these worked wonders on our son. In addition, we changed his diet, increased his omega-3’s with supplements, took out every single additive and dye we could think of in his food, and created a reward system that we thought certain would correct every ounce of his inattention. At the end of the day, however, he was still struggling. Finally, on the advice of our pediatrician, we were faced with the prospect of starting our son on medication.
I hate to admit this, but I must: I was one of those moms who swore up and down that my child would never be on medication. We live one of those annoying lifestyles that involves organic foods, regular bedtimes, consistent discipline, and high expectations. I have a doctorate in psychology, so I reasoned to myself, “Surely I can figure all this out on my own — right?”
Wrong. My sanctimonious bubble has been burst and I am a better mother for it. My child needed medication. My friend and fellow psychologist changed my mind by putting it this way: “You are so worried about harming Nate by putting him on medication, but what if you are harming him more by not doing so.” What a revelation. She was completely right of course—we were harming him more by watching him struggle at school, feel completely disorganized and watch his self-esteem plummet as his siblings and friends were figuring things out that he couldn’t. You’d think that if anyone would be able to realize this it would be a psychologist, but I didn’t. This decision was the hardest one we’ve made so far as parents.
Now the good news: Flash forward ahead 3 months and my wonderful son is a new kid. I checked his grades yesterday and they were better than they’ve ever been. His teacher told me that it is like he is a different child. He sits in his desk, he focuses on his work, he sleeps better, and his handwriting is so neat that his teacher didn’t even recognize it! Finally, he is taking his time to do the work he was intended to do. Lest you think medication has changed everything, it hasn’t. He is still my most stubborn child, strong-willed, complaining about homework, chores, and bedtime. He still hates the piano and fights endlessly with his siblings. But I see something in him I never saw before: self-confidence.
I have learned an important lesson these last few months, not just as a mom, but as a psychologist whose job is to supposedly have all the answers. What I learned was that there are no perfect answers; what works for one family may not work for the next. A treatment for one child may be completely wrong for another. That one mother may react in a cool and calm manner as her child goes through this process (not me) while another tears her hair out, wonders where she went wrong and cries (me). The point here is that if your child is suffering, talk to your pediatrician today about what you can do that may help them work up to their potential. It may be the best call you ever make.
About Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in Colorado with her husband and three energetic children. She currently has a private practice in Boulder where she sees adults, couples and adolescents.