Meds or no meds, Part 1: the how and the why

I want to take a moment (or much longer) and discus ADHD meds, and the choices we’ve made regarding them and our son, Colin. I keep hearing over and over again (both before and after they know my son is on meds) how doctors are “over diagnosing” ADHD, and “over prescribing” stimulant meds like Ritalin, or Adderall, etc. People say doctors just hand those pills out like candy, and what these kids need is a good spanking and some discipline. I’m sure there are some doctors out there who over diagnose and over prescribe for ADHD/ADD. I don’t know any of them.

These drugs are some of the most tightly regulated medications on the market. Prescriptions are not allowed to be called in to the pharmacy. I must obtain new “scripts” for every ADHD med my son takes each month. Until recently, the doctor had to physically see how Colin was doing each and every month he wrote a prescription (the doc is now allowed to write scripts for up to 3 months in advance). I also have to show my driver’s license each time I pick up his meds from the pharmacist due to the fact they are considered “controlled substances”. Obtaining these meds is not the piece of cake some would have you believe.

Let me tell you the story of how and why I came to put Colin on Ritalin. First though, I want to say that I have no problems with someone who decides they do not want to put their child on medication. It is NOT a decision that is to be made lightly, and I respect the decision of each parent in regards to how they want to raise their child. I expect, however, the same consideration from others.

The year after my first wife passed away, I bought a house in the suburbs and moved myself and my two boys. We were practically the American Dream personified. A couple of days after Christmas that year, I put my boys to bed around 7:30 and decided I’d try to get a little shut-eye before I had to go to work that night. I shut my door and was fast asleep. At the time, I had employed the 18-year-old daughter of one of my coworkers to sit with my boys at night while I was at work.

I got up about an hour and a half later and jumped in the shower to get ready for work. As I was getting out of the shower, I had the most frightening experience of my life. I hear someone from my living room call out, “POLICE OFFICER!”

My first thought was that this had to be a joke. I figured my coworker had come to drop his daughter off early, and had made his way into my house. “Yeah, right, Sam. Whatever”, I yell back.

“SIR! THIS IS THE POLICE DEPARTMENT! PLEASE COME INTO THE LIVING ROOM!”

Now, remember, I am just out of the shower, and am in the middle of drying myself off. I look around the corner from my bathroom (which is in my bedroom), and see two police officers with their hands on their weapons, looking directly at me.

“Uh. Uh. Let me put some clothes on…” I manage to stammer.

As I  begin to get dressed the lead officer is talking to me. “Sir, do you know that your garage door is open, your car doors are open, and your back door is open?” he asks.

“No, sir. I didn’t know”, I say as my mind starts racing. Wondering how my garage door got open, and if someone had burglarized my car, I still had not managed to grasp the full situation.

At this point, the officer says, “We were driving through the neighborhood, and noticed the garage door open, and figured we had better check up it.” Then, he looks at me and says, “Sir, do you have any children?”

Dumbass me still was in such shock, I did not really register what he was asking, or why. “Yeah, I have two boys.”

“Their names? Ages?”

“Colin, age 4, and Ryan, who just turned 4 last week.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“Yeah, they are in the back bedrooms.”

THAT’S when it started to click.

“What’s going on?”, I ask the first officer as the other officer goes towards the back of the house.

“Just a minute” he says, while we wait for the other officer. He comes back and says flatly, “Yeah, they’re not back there. I found this..” and produces the two halves of the door knob covers I had placed on the INSIDE of Colin’s and Ryan’s doors so they, theoretically, couldn’t get out.

“Yeah, I think we found their house,” the officer calls on the radio. So, to make a long story just a little bit shorter (and thank you for reading this far), apparently what happened was this: after I laid down (and shut my door to sleep for the LAST time), Colin managed to peel off the door knob cover from his door. He then got Ryan out of his room, and they decided it was “play time” in the garage. They got into the car, and were playing around when, I guess, they saw the garage door opener on the visor.

Colin pushed the button, and up went the garage door. Both boys, seeing their opportunity to make a break for it, went back inside the house and PUT THEIR SHOES ON, and started walking through the neighborhood. Thank goodness I live in a fairly nice area. They walked two streets up from our house, and walked up to someone’s house and rang the doorbell.

I don’t know if that was the only house they rang, but luckily for all three of us, the lady that answered the door had a child about the same age as my boys, and brought them inside. She then called the police. I thank my lucky stars all the time for that lady. This story could have had such a worse ending.

Anyway, it was at that point that I realized that Colin’s ADHD had reached a point where he basically had little to no impulse control whatsoever. He literally could not stop himself for one second to think, “This might be dangerous, I shouldn’t do this.” If he had an idea, he was going to do it. And Ryan was going to go along with him. I knew then and there, SOMETHING had to be done.

I also want to say that, as scary as this story is, it was not the ONLY reason I wanted to put Colin on meds. He literally, NEVER stops moving (even now, on his meds, he is in constant motion). He’s even restless when he sleeps. He never stops talking (again, even on his meds, he rarely stops talking). If he is off his meds, he has to touch EVERYTHING. Seriously. Every. Thing. Including people, dogs, cats, stuff on the ground, etc. He has a special affinity for switches and buttons, and that makes a trip to the doctor’s office with its light switches, and call buttons, and instruments to look in eyes and ears, especially fun.

So, anyway, I took Colin to an ADHD doctor less than a week after he and Ryan “escaped” from the house, and he gave me all kinds of surveys to fill out, and even had Colin’s pre-K teachers fill one out. The doc said Colin was “0ff-the-charts” ADHD, and prescribed Ritalin. We started him on a small dose, and worked our way up to a pretty heavy dose (80mg every morning) within about 8 or 9 months.

Even on that high of a dosage, it didn’t solve all of his behavioral issues, but it did allow him to go to school and not be a TOTAL distraction. We even had to get him an aide to sit with him for about a year and a half to make sure he stayed on task and didn’t disrupt the class too much every day. He still had his “moments”, but with the help of his incredible aide, his wonderful kindergarten teacher, as well as repeating kindergarten, Colin is now pretty much on grade level and makes mostly A’s and B’s in first grade, and will start 2nd grade in August.

Up next, Part 2 of Meds or No Meds, where I discuss the ongoing challenges of the medications and what happens when we have to switch or modify his dosage and/or the medication itself.

Colin (hopefully) goes to camp…

One of the hardest things Sara and I have to deal with each year, is how to keep our boys occupied when they are not in school. When they were little, it was easier since they were in daycare. Now, with Sara and I having three boys between us, putting them in a “daycare” or leaving them with a sitter all summer is not exactly economically “easy” (though we will figure it out if it comes to that).

We are lucky in one aspect, and that is that I work “3rd shift”. That means, if need be, the boys can stay with me during the day. The main downside is I would get little-to-no sleep, and the boys would not get to do a lot of things outside the home since I would have to get at least SOME sleep during the day.

Last year, with Robbie in daycare full-time, we were very lucky to find a church in our area offering a “day camp” that met every weekday, for 4-5 hours each day. This camp was incredible. First of all, it was free even though we were not members of the church (though we donated several things from snacks, to money, to volunteer time), plus the kids got to do arts and crafts every week,and  the church even took them to a local water park every week. It was a really awesome camp, and the volunteers from this church were wonderful (they were even quite understanding about Colin and his difficulties).

This year, unfortunately, we are not sure if the camp will be done exactly the same way. One of the founders of the camp passed away, and while his wife has told us the camp will continue, we are worried that it will be scaled down quite a bit. We do have a bit of a plan, though, if the camp is not the same.

Sara ran across a wonderful camp called Charis Hills. It is a traditional “sleep away” camp especially for kiddos with ADHD, autism, Aspergers, and other special needs. We are VERY hopeful we will be able to afford to send Colin to this camp. Colin and I got to attend an open house for the camp this weekend, and I came away more impressed than I thought I could be.

This camp offers activities like learning the basics of archery, riflery, fishing, camping, snorkeling (good luck getting Colin in the water, haha), and other traditional “summer camp” type stuff, all for kids just like Colin. At the open house, we got to meet several other families, and I couldn’t believe just how much those other kids were like Colin.

I just know this place would do him a world of good. It’s not inexpensive to send a child there (almost $1200/week), but Sara and I are determined to save the funds required for him to go.

After getting to see the place, Colin hasn’t stopped talking about going. He probably won’t stop talking about it until he goes in July, and probably won’t stop talking about what it was like for quite a while after he comes back.

Ryan got to spend a week with my mom last summer, and that was the first time either of them had been “away” from the other since Ryan was first placed in our home. It made him feel really special. Colin was obviously a bit “jealous” that he didn’t get to go also, but he is far too much for my elderly mother to handle. This year, though, Colin will get to go somewhere special, and they will be well equipped to handle him. Heck, he’ll even be one of the “normal” kids there. Something with which Colin is not very familiar. It will be an interesting summer, that’s for sure.

The Robster

Robbie, Colin, and Ryan. The three handsomest boys around…

While Robbie’s early childhood was different from Colin and Ryan’s, it was no less challenging. Robbie was born about a month early due to some complications during Sara’s pregnancy. He was in the NICU for several days before he was allowed to come home. He has been thriving ever since.

The main thing I worry about with Robbie is the kid is so smart. He hasn’t been tested, but this kid must read somewhere close to a 5th grade level at 5 years old. Because his birthday is in early September, he barely missed the cutoff to go to kindergarten last year, so Sara and I opted to put him in a Private-K class since it cost us the same to send him there as it would regular daycare. We are pretty sure we are going to try to get him tested into first grade next school year, because otherwise, he will have to go through kinder again, and that is just a recipe for disaster.

This school year isn’t over yet, and he is already able to help Colin and Ryan with THEIR homework (and they are both almost finished with first grade). Like most ultra-bright kids, Robbie very bored, very quickly because he has mastered whatever lesson his teacher is giving while the other kids have just finished reading the directions. This causes some behavioral issues because the kid is still only 5 after all. Every teacher says the same thing: incredibly bright kid, but very “distractable”.

The worry I have with Robbie is similar to that of a lawyer with a client he knows is innocent. I am scared to death I will screw this up. There is so much potential in him. He really is the smartest kid I have ever known. He is going to do such great things. Every parent looks at their child, and sees a future POTUSA, or Supreme Court Justice, or Heisman Trophy winner, or Academy Award winner, or whatever. But let’s be honest, every kid doesn’t have that potential. Most kids, I think we just hope they can become a productive member of society.

With Robbie, it really is different. His potential is limitless. And, to be completely honest, that scares the shit out of me. What if I’m not up to the task of being his dad? What if I can’t challenge him enough, and he just gives up out of sheer boredom? What if I push him too hard, too soon, and he gives up because he thinks he can’t do it? I know Sara has those same fears.

When I used to go to church (yes, I DID go to church fairly regularly for a long time, stop snickering), the pastor said he used to say a prayer every night. I went something like this, “Please, Lord, don’t let the damage I did to my children today be permanent.” I think every parent can relate to that prayer.

Ryan’s Story

Me and Ryan

Telling Ryan’s story is not easy. Not that his start was any harder or easier than Colin’s, but it is more…complicated. He was born to a mother who had been in and out of jail several times. She had two daughters that were removed by CPS and adopted by another family, but they were an older couple who did not wish to “start over” with a new baby. The fact that Ryan’s half sisters had already been removed by CPS is the main reason placing him in care when he was born. Ryan was originally placed with a different foster family who intended to adopt him. That family was later shut down for reasons of which we were not made aware.  

At the beginning of that year (2006), I told my wife that I was going to give foster parenting one more year, but at the end of ’06, I wanted out. We wanted to adopt one more child, but if it didn’t happen by the end of that year, I was prepared to move on. Wendy had begun getting sicker, and the emotional toll of bringing children into our home only to lose them later was beginning to weigh heavily on both of us (especially Wendy). Colin was our 18th child in 4 years. Ryan would be number 23 in 5 years.

The Friday before Colin turned 2, we got a call from our family caseworker, Regina (not her real name). She knew we had an opening, so she said, “Hey, I’ve got a little football player for you!”

Regina knew how much I loved football and she knew we were getting near our breaking point as foster parents. Ryan was a stocky little 1.5 yr old with the biggest brown eyes you’d ever seen. He was just a really cute kid; still is, actually. She told us CPS was about to close down Ryan’s current foster family. She said they needed a placement for him fast, and that he would more than likely be adoptable (though you never know with CPS). That was the clincher for Wendy. We took Ryan in to our home (at the time, his foster family was calling him Jeremy, but his birth mother originally named him Brendon). We didn’t like any of those names, so we changed it to Ryan (he looks more like a Ryan anyway).

For about the first month he was with us, we weren’t sure that Ryan could speak at all. He mostly just grunted and made other noises with his mouth. Turns out, he had a pretty severe speech delay (that he has almost completely overcome now, with the help of speech therapy). He also wasn’t the happiest of all children. Who could blame him? In 1.5 years, he had been in three different families (birth, and two different foster families, counting us). The poor kiddo didn’t really know what it meant to have a “stable” home life. Literally 6 months and 2 days later (a foster child has to be in your home for 6 months to be eligible for adoption), we adopted Ryan on National Adoption Day 2006.

This is where things got even more complicated. It’s hard enough to explain it to myself, or Ryan, let alone a stranger reading this blog. In his young life, Ryan lost his biological mother, a foster family, and an adoptive mom all within the span of less than 3 years. At the time, the only “stable” adult in his life, me, was overcome with grief and depression. Ryan did pretty much the only thing he could do in the situation. He started acting out.

The only other kid in his life that he was able to use as a role model was Colin. Since Colin was such a handful, I had to spend most of my time just making sure he wasn’t doing something he wasn’t supposed to (like leaving the house while I was asleep-another story for another time). Ryan learned that the best way to get attention was to follow Colin’s lead. By the time I met Sara, Ryan was having a lot of behavioral issues. He was probably very close to being diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. He had a real mean streak to him sometimes, and he just flat out refused to follow directions when he didn’t feel like doing something.

Credit Sara for really sticking it out with Ryan. Today, about 2 years after coming into our lives, Sara has helped Ryan become a completely different child. He has really started maturing and growing into a great young man who is making A’s and B’s in school, and rarely ever has less than a “green” (or good) day at school. He recently became the first kid in his class to pass the reading portion of a standardized test the district gives. I am so very proud of him, and the turnaround he has made, but really, Sara should get most of the credit here.

Now, in mid-2012, our little family is beginning to blossom beautifully. We are pretty much the definition of “blended family”. Sara and I are both on our 2nd marriage, Colin and Ryan were both adopted, and Robbie is my step-son (who I will adopt sometime soon, hopefully). Ryan also has half-sisters who we keep in touch with pretty regularly, plus I keep in close touch with my first wife’s family (they absolutely adore Sara and Robbie). I don’t think we would have it any other way.

Colin Stories Pt. 1 (with a lot more to come)

People ask me a lot to tell them my favorite story about Colin. It’s hard to pick one because it seems like there’s a new one every day. Whether it be a new obsession (he has run the gamut from fireworks, to tornadoes, to the game Perfection, to sprinklers, to car washes, and his latest, Animusic), or something he has said (the good day pickle story, for example), or something he has done, Colin is a walking, talking, “you’ll-never-guess-what-happened-THIS-time” kind of story.

The story I like to tell most often about Colin, though, is how he helped me get through my grief and depression after my first wife passed away. Wendy was a wonderful woman. She was very caring, intelligent, and funny, and I loved her dearly. We had a great marriage. She was, however, very ill for the last several years of our life together. She was diabetic, and had most likely been diabetic for at least 10-15 years before she was diagnosed.

She passed away on November 3rd, 2007, not quite a year after we adopted our second son, Ryan (a little more than 2 years after we adopted Colin). Colin and Ryan were 3 and 2, respectively, and I was lost. I had been taking care of Wendy and the boys by myself for well over a year before she passed away due to the complications of her disease, but being totally without her was not something for which I was prepared.

I did what countless single parents have done in my situation. I sucked it up as best I could (oftentimes failing to do so), and tried to get on with our lives. There were times, though, that my grief and depression just overwhelmed me. There were times, and I’m not proud of this, I would literally sit on the floor and cry my eyes out, not knowing how I would get through another minute, let alone another day. Sometimes, I was able to hide it all from my boys, but often, I was not. Every time I would break down, and I mean EVERY time, Colin would see me, he’d sit down with me, and look me right in the eye (something he rarely does because of his autism), and he would just say, “It’s ok, daddy. I love you.”

Colin with a disco ball given to him by his teacher for Christmas

A “special” child

It’s hard to know where to start with something like this. I want to tell my and my family’s story, plus I want to make it interesting for someone who comes across this page, but I also don’t believe I need to tell EVERYTHING about my life up to this point (it would take too long anyway. I’m 41 years old, for goodness sakes).

Since I want to kind of focus on a lot of the challenges my wife and I face with raising our three diverse children, I’ll start with the child that is our focus for oh, around 80-90% of our day: Colin.

Colin’s life started in a very rough way. True to his form, though, he proved himself to be a real fighter. He was born to a biological mother who was a prostitute, and I believe, hooked on drugs. Colin was put into the foster care system after a CPS worker found him, at five weeks old, in an apartment with no electricity (it was June, in Dallas, TX). His bio-mom rarely changed his diaper despite neighbors giving the young woman free diapers, and when he would cry because he was hungry, she would stuff peanut butter in his mouth to make him stop. This was despite the fact that the same neighbors who gave her diapers, also gave her formula. She just refused to take care of him, and left him in a car seat with no cover or padding.

So, at five weeks old, a severely malnourished, but seemingly happy, Colin (then known as Jessie-father unknown, by the way), was delivered to me and my first wife, Wendy. Soon after, Colin’s bio-mom was never seen, or heard from, again.

We noticed fairly early on that Colin was having some developmental delays. He did not sit up unassisted until he was almost a year old. He would not, or could not, sit up to drink a bottle. In fact, feeding issues dogged Colin for the first few years of his life because as a newborn, he learned that if something solid was in his mouth (like the peanut butter his bio-mom stuffed in his mouth), then he better not swallow it because he could choke to death. He was smart (and a survivor) even then.

So, with the help some wonderful therapists from Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), and another group called Therapy 2000, Colin was hitting most of his developmental goals by the age of 2. Even then, he showed a great talent for memorization by mastering matching games and putting together puzzles that were designed for older kids. I remember asking his therapists and doctors (mainly because of his receptive speech delays) if they thought he could be autistic, but they answered they didn’t think so because a) he was pretty verbal (in fact, he rarely stopped talking), and b) he did not do the stimming so many people associate with autism.

To her credit, one of my good friends, Amy (a school psychologist) said she thought he might be autistic and tried to push me to get him tested. By that time, though, I was dealing with the death of my first wife (more on that later), and I decided that I would listen to Colin’s doctors and therapists. Besides, who wants to hear their child is autistic, especially while in the grips of depression and grief?

Not long after I met Sara, she really started pushing me to get Colin more testing (he had already been diagnosed with pretty severe ADHD). We ended up taking him to a Developmental Pediatrician who confirmed the autism diagnosis in August of 2010. It was a pretty big blow at the time. All of a sudden I started picturing all of my hopes and dreams for Colin (baseball star, academic excellence, grand children) going down the drain. It really hit me like a ton of bricks, despite it being something I already knew in the back of my mind anyway.

The truth of the matter is that none of those things were lost, and the diagnosis of autism did not change who Colin is as a child. He is still the lovable, goofy, smart, sensitive, frustrating, kid he has always been (and always will be).

What’s in a Name?

My oldest son, Colin, is ADHD and Autistic (“on the spectrum” as they say). Although I hate using those terms to “define” him. He is so much more than those terms.

He is a very challenging, and very special, little boy. My wife and I are very lucky, as far as parents of  children on the autisim spectrum go. Colin is VERY verbal. That’s not to say he communicates easily, but he basically talks nonstop. He is not really able to have what one would call a “normal” conversation. Colin’s coversation skills basically equate to constant questions. Even questions he knows the answers to. ESPECIALLY questions he knows the answers to, actually. Plus, like a lot of other autistic children, Colin repeats words and phases he has heard from other people. Whether he knows what they mean (or even if YOU know what the mean) or not. This is called echolalia.

So, I don’t know exactly where the phrase “good day pickle” came from, but I can give it an educated guess. I’m pretty sure it started with one of his teachers telling Colin, “You’re a pickle”. Since Colin doesn’t really understand something like that, he thought it was hilarious that someone thought he was a pickle. He started calling people that all the time. Even upon first meeting someone, he would say, “Hi! I’m Colin. You’re a pickle!” The fact that this would usually elicit laughter (even nervous laughter from strangers) just encouraged it.

When Colin would go off to school every morning, I would call after him, “Have a good day!” He managed to turn that into “You’re a good day pickle, daddy”.

When I started dating Sara (who would become my wife about 8 months after we met), she thought it was pretty funny, too, so it soon became a catch phrase between the two of us as a way to kind of put a smile on each other’s face whenever Colin was being “difficult”.