Surrendering to Ritalin
On the surface, that is just the sort of comment you'd expect from an obnoxious brat, but I knew there was truth in the words. School wasn't "paying" him. It had become a place where he was bad, where the adults in control wanted to "break his face."
In the last few months before he left that school, Zachary turned into a very angry child. He complained about every little thing. He picked on his little brothers. This was the beginning of the end for him. When Lisa took him to be evaluated, he threw such a fit that the psychologist couldn't test him. She called Lisa to come pick him up and declared that he was "oppositionally defiant," which, in layman's terms, means "this kid is a major jerk and you are going to suffer for the rest of your life."
Giving in, moving on
Zachary is now at a public school. He takes 10 milligrams of Ritalin twice a day. He has not turned into a sheep, as I thought he would, nor has he lost his creative edge. He still stands at the end of our driveway, engaging in elaborate swordplay against imaginary foes with his stick and garbage can lid. After four weeks of taking the medication, he's made friends and has stopped being so angry. He does his homework without banging on the walls or snapping pencils in half. His teacher declared him "a joy to work with." He goes to therapy twice a month, and he actually talks to the therapist. I hate to say it, but I believe that Ritalin is working for him.
I hate it because, deep down, I feel that, if it weren't for school, Zachary wouldn't need this drug. I hate it because I read the articles and understand what is written between the lines about parents "relieved to blame a neurological glitch" or "seeking a quick fix." I hate it because I feel that our culture doesn't have room for wild men like Zachary, because I suspect that he is like the child one writer described as "an evolutionary remnant, a hunter personality trapped in a culture of desk jockeys."
But Zachary isn't a caveman, and his brain isn't functioning the way it's supposed to. This is made abundantly clear to me every time I spend more energy reeling in Zachary than I do on his two younger brothers put together. I hope that eventually I can develop the attitude a friend of mine has about her own son's ADHD.
"I'm so proud of myself for having caught it so soon," she said to me recently. "He is so much happier now." With pride like that, she must not be reading the same articles I'm reading.
This article first appeared on salon.com. An online version remains in the Salon archives. Reprinted with permission.