When my son was 4, I took him to the only psychiatric clinic I could find in my area that said they would diagnose ADHD in a child as young as he was then. I took him because I KNEW there was something wrong. Something off. Something beyond the “mild sensory processing disorder” that we’d been told he had a year before, by a clinic that wouldn’t accept our insurance and that wanted $180/week for therapy. He was wild – crashing into everything (the sensory processing), screaming, not falling asleep until midnight or later every night, refusing to comply with anything we said, and destroying every thing he touched, either intentionally or unintentionally. At that time all I knew to call it was ADHD – and within 10 minutes with the child psychologist she was ready to refer us to the psychiatrist so that we could get medication for our son. Within 12 minutes I was sobbing in her office – my answer to her question, “How are you doing?”
Since then there have been more diagnoses, more doctors, more evaluations, and many, many different medications. Some of the therapies, like his weekly visits with his OT for handwriting, have helped. Some, like the 3 different talk therapists we took him to, haven’t. At home we’ve vacillated between hardline responses to his behaviors, which have created frustration and misery for parents and child, and an attempt to ignore everything except extreme safety issues and basic respect for his family, which works best but requires a HUGE effort to remain calm (or at least seem calm, which is much different than actually being calm) and which tends to give me a raging tension headache at the end of most days.
Unlike the other diagnoses we’ve heard doctors give to Little J, this one seems very, very different.
So now we’re headed towards another diagnosis: FASD, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I wrote about it a little bit on the Mom’s View of ADHD blog already, and I’m sure I’ll write about it more and more as the summer progresses and we go through the evaluations and the process of coming to terms with it all. Unlike the other diagnoses we’ve heard doctors give to Little J, this one seems very, very different. For one, unlike ADHD, there is no medication that will help my child get over the brain damage he received as a result of his birth mother’s alcohol consumption when she was pregnant with him. Strategies that kids and adults with ADHD can use to help them function really well in life aren’t likely to help Little J. Medications like the ones he’s on – a stimulant and a mood regulator – can help, but they aren’t going to make him magically “normal.” And from what I’ve read, there is no therapy – no talk therapy, occupational therapy, or any other therapy that will suddenly make his brain whole and fully functioning. The only kind of therapy that will probably help him is therapy and education that his dad and I get – he’s not going to change the way his brain works, so we need to change the environment he’s in. This is hard. This is – literally – life changing. And it’s also really, really sad.
I know I sound down. I am. Although we are seeking this diagnosis because we’re seeking answers, it also seems like a more final diagnosis than the ones we’ve gotten in the past. Little J can grow and change, but because he has brain damage there is a limit to how far he can go. The other diagnoses didn’t seem so limited to us. Standard procedures do not apply.
Adrienne Ehlert Bashista lives in central North Carolina with her husband and 2 boys, ages 8 and 11. She is a contributor and co-editor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories. To read all of Adrienne’s posts on this blog, please click here.
(image from Psychology Today)