Our son, Joe, was just 8 years old when we took him to Children’s Hospital in Denver where several psychological professionals interviewed and observed him and told us they were certain he had moderate ADHD. He wasn’t the worst case they’d seen, but they felt he would improve the most quickly with medication. We discussed the benefits and side effects associated with this type of treatment with the doctors and decided to go ahead and start him on a low dose of Concerta, an extended release form of the drug Ritalin. We had hoped never to have to put our child on medication and had investigated other possible explanations for our son’s poor grades, non-existent attention span, nervous gestures, and total lack of impulse control before finally being able to admit that perhaps he truly did have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
One of the side effects the doctors discussed with us at length was the possibility of slowed growth due to the medication. They assured us that children on the medication do continue to grow but at a much slower rate. Born prematurely, Joe was on the small side to begin with. One suggestion the doctors had was to take him off the medication during breaks from school, especially long ones like summer vacation, to allow his body a bit of unrestricted time for growth. Up until now, we had elected not to do that because we were focused on using the medication to get him caught up in school and with his self-esteem issues. But, after seeing him with his classmates at Field Day this year, we finally decided it might help to take him off the Concerta for the summer. You see, Joe is the oldest boy in his class by nearly a year and yet he’s still the shortest. There’s nothing wrong with being short, but if we can help him catch up it seems like we should.
So, a week ago we took away Joe’s medication and asked him to try going two days without it. He was adamantly against the idea, but we persisted. We managed to turn two days off into four and then eventually into an entire week. On the plus side, we’ve seen a definite improvement in his eating and sleeping habits, an indication that he might just grow if we keep this up. But, I’m not going to lie. These past seven days have been tough. Our boys, who get along 95% of the time when Joe is on his medication, fought quite a bit more this week. I spent far more time than usual trying to solve disputes and suppress whining. Joe’s been more argumentative, impulsive, and distracted. He’s been on the medication for nearly three years now, so I had almost forgotten this side of him. If there’s been a silver lining to this little experiment, it’s that if we’d harbored any concerns about whether he truly had ADHD or whether the medication was honestly working, those concerns are gone.
Today Joe announced that he was going to take his medication again starting tomorrow. He told us that he’s tired of feeling out of control. I understand that. I do. But, I feel that Steve, Luke, and I are partly responsible for his feeling that way because we’re not used to his behavior off the medication and we’re acting differently toward him, expecting things of him that we expect from medicated Joe. That is simply not fair. Before he went to bed, we had a little family discussion. We asked Joe to forgive us for our impatience because as much as this is a period of readjustment for him it is also one for us. We promised we’d lower our expectations of him a bit if he would be willing to work a little harder to focus and try to meet us midway. Luke, exhausted from fending off Joe’s poking and prodding and teasing and belittling, told us he simply wants the “old Joe” back. Luke definitely bears the brunt of Joe’s ADHD symptoms, so we’re definitely taking that into consideration.
After the boys went to sleep, hubby and I decided that we’re going to give Joe’s medication-free trial run one more week…one week when we resolutely try to understand where he’s at and not where we expect him to be. Our biggest fear right now is our not being able to control our expectations and then making Joe feel bad about his behavior when it’s really not his fault. So, we’re going to try to rein ourselves in and let him be. If at the end of the next week we feel this time off is going to do more harm to him emotionally than good to him physically we’ll put him back on daily doses. I hate feeling like he’s a science experiment, but right now he kind of is. I would love to see him experience a growth spurt, but not at the expense of his self-confidence and self-esteem. Some parents, I’m sure, put their child on medication to save their sanity. We put Joe on it to save his. If taking him off for a couple weeks causes him to feel bad about himself again, the experiment ends. I’d much rather have a shorter-than-average happy kid than miserable child of average height. Science experiment be damned.