How Ritalin Saved My Child

One parent's story of making the difficult but necessary decision to medicate her child with ADHD.

The ADD Experience, Part 2

Armadillo boy goes to school

At age three, Zachary went to pre-school, where he achieved notoriety for figuring out how to unlock the childproof latch on the gate. Lisa and I pulled him out of that school after the counselors got so angry with him for pooping on the playground that they put him in time-out for two hours. Never mind that he was pretending to be an armadillo and that he pooped behind a shed. Clearly, his inability to listen had stretched their limits.

Next was the Montessori school. How does a child get kicked out of a school that prides itself on its philosophy to nurture each child, to encourage him to be self-directed, an active explorer? Well, Zachary was a bit too active an explorer, even for them. He hid in closets and under computer tables. He refused to participate in circle time and became so disruptive that the other children couldn't participate either.

Strangers would come up to me at parks and say, after a few minutes of watching Zachary, "He's just like my son. He has ADHD, doesn't he?" I would reply, "Nooooo, he's just a spirited child."

I couldn't see how someone would perceive Zachary as deficient in anything. Yes, he requires more work than most kids, but I figure that's the price you pay for having a kid who can't walk to the car without pretending he's tip-toeing across a log, trying to keep his feet from being eaten by alligators.

He attended a private Catholic school for kindergarten, but we pulled him out at the end of the year because they insinuated that if he couldn't read by the time he entered the first grade, he would be held back. There was no way he was going to perform well under that kind of pressure. Not only that, but his teacher carried a cowbell on the playground, jangling it loudly at children who failed to swing straight.

One day before we pulled him out, I parked next to the playground, waiting for the school bell to ring. My eye was drawn to a kid who had put a box over his head and was careening wildly around the playground, a couple of other boys in tow. I waited for the teacher to jangle the cowbell. I could see the boy was out of control, and I was relieved. Someone else had a kid like Zachary. The school bell rang and the children scattered. Box Boy slowed down, wobbly as a top, then BAM, popped the box up high off his head. It was Zachary. My heart sank.

Lisa found a private school that advertised itself as focusing on the arts, and seemed open to working with Zachary. In retrospect, I see that the only reason they didn't kick him out for three years was that Lisa was forever in the office pleading his case. She literally bullied the school into keeping him.

Hardly a day went by without Zachary's committing some indiscretion. He played too rough on the playground. He called one teacher an "ass," another an "idiot." In a conference, the principal said she'd never seen such a rude child. One day after he insulted a substitute teacher, she grabbed him by the chin and threatened to "break his face." Now we were at the place where the adults in authority wanted to kill him.

Zero options - and an insight

Lisa and I tried everything - changes in diet, homeopathic remedies, therapy, behavior-modification programs. He suffered the loss of every privilege he had and practically lived in time-out. Lisa and I blamed each other. I thought she didn't spend enough time with Zachary. She thought I was too easy on him.

A couple of days before Zachary finally was asked to leave that school, I drove him over to a car wash to check on his recycling business. The owner of the car wash had agreed to save aluminum cans for Zachary. When we drove up, the man came over to my truck and leaned in the window.

"This kid has the best manners of any kid I know," he said. "We love him around here." After the man left, I turned to Zachary. "Did you hear that?" I asked. "He says you have good manners. Why can't you use them in school?" He shrugged. "Because they don't pay me."

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