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“Seeing Camden Clearly: How a Diagnosis Unlocked My Son’s Best Self”

“It was time, I realized, to stop ignoring what had been staring me in the face. It was time to stop rolling my eyes at other parents who said their kids had ADHD. It was time to stop clicking my tongue in disapproval at these parents because they chose to use medicine to help.”

I remember the exact moment when I realized my son needed rescuing.

Something was desperately wrong. After school, a few months into the fourth grade, Camden jumped headfirst into the car and thrust a piece of paper at me. It was another incident report for getting into a fight at school. He had struck another student at recess.

This one came with a warning for suspension; he was out of second chances. My son leaned forward and put his hands over his face. His body began to tremble with pent-up sobs. Astonished, I reached for his hand and asked him what happened.

“I can’t,” he gasped. “I don’t even know. All I know is I wanted him to stop!”

“Camden, you need to breathe,” I said. A jolt of pain struck me to my core seeing my 9-year-old in distress. “Who are you talking about? What did you want them to stop doing?”

[Read: Why School Stress Is Devastating for Our Children]

“He kept screaming at me and no one did anything. No one stopped him. Teachers didn’t see it. He wouldn’t stop. So I slapped him!”

My shoulders slumped.

Had it really come to this? I knew something had to change — and fast. The school year was just getting started, and things were going from bad to worse faster than I could imagine. Gone was my happy, carefree boy who would sing in his room and laugh at our cats. In his place was a struggling child who could not focus on schoolwork, who had trouble remembering tasks, sitting still, following directions, getting along with other kids, and whose mishaps were bleeding him dry.

I sighed heavily as my mind darted back to our recent parent-teacher conference.

“Have you ever had your son tested for ADHD?” His teacher asked, kindly.

[Read: “What is Wrong with My Child?”]

“When he was in kindergarten,” I said, trying not to cringe. I hated the ADHD label. Why do adults like to do that — give kids labels as if they were items on a shelf for sale? “His pediatrician said he had mild symptoms but didn’t go much further than that.” I knew my explanation sounded weak.

Her eyebrows went up in a mixture of surprise and confusion. She went on to gently inform me that my son was struggling in school with focus and attention and needed help.

But why now? I wondered. Sure, Camden has shown some symptoms of the dreaded ADHD, but I’d been able to manage it up until this point. Hadn’t I?

The first six weeks of kindergarten flashed through my mind. With 23 5-year-olds to one frazzled, ineffective teacher, things were nothing short of disastrous. It ultimately led to my decision to begin homeschooling Camden.

I was terrified at first, but I knew Camden needed one-on-one instruction that he would not receive at school. I was not a certified teacher, but the teacher gave me Camden’s textbooks when he left the school. The curriculum was easy to follow – while at home, Camden learned the art of decoding letters and how to read using Scrabble tiles. Math lessons included multi-link cubes for counting, adding, and subtracting. We joined a homeschool field trip group, and AWANA at church. I ran a tight ship over several years with an organized schedule, and things were going exactly the way I planned… until they weren’t.

After homeschooling him through the Second grade, I was confident that Camden could return to the classroom and thrive, albeit in a small, private school. I was also working to find natural, homeopathic interventions for his symptoms. Though we’d spent much time searching, I figured the missing fix was out there – we just hadn’t come across it yet.

I was wrong.

Third grade came and went, but not without incident. Looking back, I’m ashamed I swept away all the warning signs, convinced he’d outgrow his challenges.

I couldn’t look away this time – our son had cracked.

After the schoolyard incident, I poured myself into researching everything and anything about ADHD. I learned that being born a preemie, Camden’s chances of developing ADHD were higher than those of full-term babies. I learned that the years I’d spent experimenting with nutrition, essential oils, and herbal supplements were all worthless. Nothing had worked.

It was time, I realized, to stop ignoring what had been staring me in the face. It was time to stop rolling my eyes at other parents who said their kids had ADHD. It was time to stop clicking my tongue in disapproval at these parents because they chose to use medicine to help.

It was time to stop making this about me.

After some issues locating a provider, we took Camden to an out-of-network child psychologist who was able to see him right away. She gave him a full evaluation, testing current abilities, the presence of any learning disabilities, as well as his emotional and psychological wellbeing. She then spent three hours with us going over her findings.

We were relieved to hear that he was on grade level with most of his subjects. But we were in shock to find out that our son was in a heightened state of anxiety – a direct result of his ADHD and inability to cope with his peers and his surroundings. Specifically, social anxiety was holding him back from conflict resolution and friendships. It was the final piece of the puzzle, and everything suddenly made sense.

The psychologist told us Camden would benefit from therapy, as it would help him develop coping skills for these issues. He would also need to be on ADHD medication.
“I know this isn’t an easy decision,” she told us. “I’m a doctor and my own son is dealing with this right now. I didn’t want to medicate him, but he was struggling. I knew it was time to help him.”

Our minds began spinning before we left her office, referral in hand to a pediatrician specializing in ADHD. What about insurance? What about medication? How do we go about finding a therapist? How is Camden’s school going to help?

We eventually met with the new pediatrician, and I felt the burden of worry lift. I soaked up this doctor’s knowledge on ADHD like a sponge. I took note of strategies that could help Camden, and settled on a medication for him – an all-day even release that came with no highs or crashes.

Then came school. I informed all his teachers and administrators of his diagnosis, of what we’d done so far to help, and what we were planning to do. Now it was their turn to step in. Despite lacking an official resource department for students like him, the school stated their willingness to do everything in their power to help Camden succeed.

It’s been a year now.

Camden’s life has changed. The decision to medicate him was the key that unlocked many doors. He’s getting all As and Bs now, and he can finally sort through the noise and confusion at school. He can clear away the cobwebs and listen to his teacher’s voice. He understands what he needs to work on, and he does it. He communicates better and has a stronger handle on his emotions. His relationships with peers have improved but still need work – and that’s perfectly okay.

To my fellow parents who are hurting, don’t give up on your child. You are their biggest champion, and they need you. You are the lighthouse to their lost ship at sea. No more floating along or floundering. No more surging waves rocking their ship to near capsizing. You can save them – just as we rescued Camden.

Supporting Your Child with ADHD: Next Steps

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