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Uncharted Territory

Why we’re tearing up our ADHD treatment plan and starting over again.

The last six months have been an interesting journey with both of my ADHD children. Facing challenges and changes, I’ve taken off my rose-colored glasses in order to truly evaluate what has been working for them and what’s not. While my daughter’s treatment program seems to be working quite well for her, I can’t say the same for my son.

When we decided to medicate him many years ago, we did so knowing full well what risks we were taking. I’m a woman of science and research. I did my homework, read the research and spoke with many professionals. We felt secure in our decision because the benefits of giving him a stimulant were greatly outweighed by the risks. Poor appetite? That’s okay, at least he’s not running into the street and we can actually take him into public. Sleep disturbances? Maybe, but his teachers aren’t calling every day to complain about his work and behavior. At one point, the medication was really working well, and we liked the Holden we were living with.

What’s happened in the last six months, however, is different. We’ve noticed a slow and steady decline in the benefits of the medications. The side effects of the medication began to take center stage to any assistance they might have been giving him.

As the school year was ending, we noticed Holden was much more sickly. He was constantly complaining of an upset stomach, headache, or dizziness. The “I’ve heard this all before” side of me kept thinking, “He just wants to get out of going to school again,” and so I dismissed his complaints. We then noticed that he never seemed to get a solid, good night’s sleep. He was much more irritable in the mornings, often downright oppositional. In short, he wasn’t himself anymore.

We consulted with his doctor, who agreed that perhaps it was time to move on. As a team, we decided that once we settled at our final road trip destination, we’d get him off the stimulants as a trial. The doctor warned us that the first two days without his stimulant might be slightly challenging as his body adjusted. For that time period I have outdoor activities planned for him to help him stay constructively busy. Yet it is absolutely terrifying to think about doing 24 straight hours without medicine, when 12 hours without it had been something out of a horror movie before.

It is scary to step away from the familiar into uncharted territory. While life wasn’t ever easy with my ADHD son, it felt safer when the stimulants were working. At one point, he was functioning very well for a kid who has such severe ADHD. We could go to the mall, a football game, or a store and know that he wouldn’t melt down or run away. Now, I really don’t know what life with him off the medication will bring. Will his behavior go back to being uncontrollable?

At this point our plan is to focus heavily on nutrition and research alternative therapies. Because there seems to be less hard-core research behind this route, and it’s foreign territory for me, it is a little intimidating. But I’m confident that at this point we’re making the best choices for him based on what we’ve experienced and learned. As parents, especially as special-needs parents, we’ve faced difficult decisions many times, for many years. Still, that doesn’t mean making them ever gets any easier.