Every year Joey’s teachers tell me that he isn’t focused. They sit him in the front of the classroom and talk directly to him, but he still takes several reminders to do any task.
It started in kindergarten. We chalked it up to boredom. He already knew how to read. In first grade we lovingly called it “Joeyland.” Every year we found a way to justify his “lost in space” behavior. At the end of third grade it reached a new level. It began to interfere with his academics. He went through a series of tests. The school psychologist did the whole work up, lots of screenings, and the test results showed a language processing disorder. We got him started with language therapy and a tutor. All summer long we subjected the kid to academia.
Then came fourth grade. My brilliant kiddo continued to struggle. I met with his team (teacher, speech therapist, reading coach). They are fantastic. They hinted at a possible ADD situation. Despite their best efforts they just couldn’t get his attention. In tears I told them that I just didn’t see what they were describing at home. He has a routine and he follows it without prompting. He keeps us in line with time, making sure we aren’t late for anything. But at school he walks in the door and doesn’t do the tasks he’s supposed to do. He sits and waits for direction. He doesn’t take his book out when asked to. He needs constant prodding.
I have friends who have seen their struggling children blossom when placed on medication. I’m thrilled for them. If my kids needed it, I’d do the same. I just didn’t think he needed it. Without telling me to try it… they hinted that maybe I should explore the idea.
I called our pediatrician. He reviewed all of the tests and letters from his teachers. After a 30-minute conversation, we agreed to try a low dose of medication. I was hesitant, but at this point I would do and try anything. We decided to give it to him on a day that he would be home, since we didn’t know how he’d react.
We explained to Joey that we were trying a new medicine to help his brain. With hesitation he swallowed it. He went off to play Minecraft. Thirty minutes later he ran to the bathroom crying that he was going to throw up. His lips were chapped. He was pale. For the next 12 hours he was nauseous and miserable. He had trouble falling asleep that night. He blamed the medication, even though he has no idea what a side effect even is.
My pediatrician was surprised. He hadn’t really heard of a reaction before and wondered if maybe Joey was simultaneously sick or had a psychosomatic reaction. There would only be one way to know for sure. Give him the medication without him knowing. As I cut open the pill and poured it into his juice I felt horribly guilty. As he drank it, I felt sick. Sneaking drugs into his food–this is not how I parent. Why was I doing this to my sweet kid?
Thirty minutes later… pale, chapped lips, nauseous, and frenetic. He cried and I cried. It was a horrible day. Neither of us could sleep that night.
I vowed never to do that to him again. Yes, there are other medications. I know it takes trial and error for kids to find the right medication and the right dosage. I don’t care. My gut told me that this was wrong. I should have listened in the first place.
A few months later, in yet another meeting with his team, the three teachers looked to me for guidance. They had tried everything–physical cues, verbal cues, sitting him next to a partner to help prompt him. He seemed to be shut down and non-responsive. His speech therapist suggested that perhaps an FM system would help him, where the teacher talks into a microphone and the student wears a headset. The voice goes directly into their ears. They can’t be distracted by fellow students or steps in the hallway. Even though Joey passed the screening for auditory processing with the school psychologist, she suggested that we take him to the audiology department and test his auditory processing. Maybe then he could qualify for an FM system. Maybe, just maybe that would help.
The audiologist met with Joey for an hour. Afterwards, she told me that Joey had failed the testing. She explained how the brain processes language. His hearing is 100%, but between his left ear and his left brain (where language is processed) he had a huge discrepancy. He couldn’t differentiate between his ears when asked to repeat words spoken to him. When cafeteria type noises were played in the background he had trouble deciphering the words being spoken to him. She told me that kids with auditory processing issues look like they have ADD because they aren’t fully processing what they are being told.
So after years of struggling to find a way to help Joey, we have decided to pull him out of our beloved public school. We are putting him in a school that caters to children with language and auditory processing issues. There will be five to six children in a classroom, built in FM systems, and professionals with the training necessary to help him.
Sometimes there’s a need for medication. Sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes professionals know what they are talking about. Sometimes they don’t. If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this whole ordeal, you should always trust your gut. I will continue, as always, to try to make the best decisions for my kids. I will fail every once in a while. I will forgive myself, and hope that one day Joey will forgive me, too.