Saturday, March 23, 2013

But every 6 year old boy is hyper... Right?

I am a modern mom. I work full time. My children go to public school. We watch cable. I have 14 boxes of cereal in my pantry right now. My children can tell you exactly what's in a Happy Meal. I am not, what you might call, "granola".

When we began to look for a solution to our son's behavioral issues, we were the last people who you would think would use any type of alternative medicine.

Let me back up.

My daughter is 10 and, in most respects, quite a dream child. She was a great baby who slept through the night almost immediately. She was very independent from a young age, always very content to play by herself and making her own breakfast daily at the age of 5. She is a straight-A student and very obedient.

My son, on the other hand...
From birth Jericho was quite a handful. He was a beautiful baby with a contagious laugh, but was very sensitive. He cried constantly. He slept rarely. As a toddler, he could not sit still for more than thirty seconds, was incapable of independent play and was nearly impossible to please. During one ill-fated trip to a shoe store, Jericho knocked down an entire display of shoes. I came home sobbing, vowing to never leave the house alone with him again. And I didn't for roughly a year.

Jericho grew older and slowly began to calm down, at least by "Jericho" standards. At 4, he started preschool. Jericho did fairly well in preschool and made friends very easily. Toward the end of his preschool career, his teacher noted that if he was going to start Kindergarten in the fall, he would need some work with some things over the summer - writing, cutting... small things. He's a boy, he's left handed, and he probably had a shorter span in preschool than a lot of other kids. I wasn't concerned.

The following fall, Jericho started Kindergarten with, I must say, an amazing teacher. Nearly immediately, she suggested Jericho join an after school club to work on his writing and manual dexterity. We agreed and he began working with someone once a week. Later in the fall, we had parent-teacher conferences. During his conference, his teacher noted that he was behind on his letters and reading. Again, we agreed to let him work with a special teacher on this subject. Towards the middle of the second quarter (around Thanksgiving), I sent an email to Jericho's teacher asking her how he was progressing. She replied with an email asking for another conference. I was a little surprised, but agreed. During our second conference, his teacher again tells us that he's not progressing as is needed for this point during the year. A lot of numbers and measurements and teaching terminology is thrown around and in the midst of it all I asked, "But he's ok, right? He's a little behind but he'll be fine and he can still go to 1st grade next year, right?" His teacher does not have an answer. She can't tell me that she'll be ready to send him on next year. She tells me instead that she can't make that determination right now. I am floored. He's smart. I know he is. I see it everyday. I can't process through my brain that he is failing Kindergarten. I immediately feel that I have failed as a mother.

Almost instantly, I start working with him around the clock. Flash cards, dry erase boards, reading exercises. We do it all. I know that we're working a lot and after a couple of months, I check in with his teacher again to see how he's doing. Another conference is called. My husband can't make it so I go alone, expecting to get a great report, or at worst a lot of what we've already been told before. During this conference, she's more serious, I can see it on her immediately. She has an entire folder to go over. She brings out test scores, which I've seen. She brings out examples of his daily work, which I've seen. At this point, I think she knows she's not getting through to me. She then begins to explain to me that earlier in the week, she had another teacher come and sit in on their classroom during their carpet reading time. She explains to me how she handed this teacher a piece of notebook paper and instructed this teacher to make a list of every time Jericho got off task, moved around, or basically did anything but listen to the story that was being read. She hands me the paper. It lists things like "10:01 - Jericho lays down on the carpet", "10:03 - Jericho spins in circles on the floor", "10:04 - Jericho interrupts the teacher reading to tell her there's a marker on the floor", and on and on and on. She observed Jericho for 15 minutes. The page is full. A complete page of paper - full. In 15 minutes. Suddenly, I realized what she was trying to tell me. It's not that Jericho isn't smart, it's that he isn't physically capable of sitting down long enough to learn. Then I ask the dreaded question: "Does my son have ADHD?" She points out quickly to me that she isn't a doctor and can't diagnose him, but hands me a piece of paper that she has very carefully typed out listing his behaviors. It will be useful if we decide to see his pediatrician, she says.

I drive home and tell my husband everything that has just happened. I'm hysterical. We talk about it and decide we'll make an appointment for Jericho. That Saturday, I get online and Google "treatments for ADHD". I spend hours - I read and I read and I read until all of the words get blurry and I can't read any more. In all of the articles that I read, a very small number of them had any useful information about medicating a child for ADHD. I'm reading a lot about clean eating and food additives and the increase in the number of cases of diagnosed ADHD through the decades... and it sounds a little crazy and new-age and hippy granola tree hugger... but it really makes a lot of sense. I stumble across an article for dye sensitivities. I don't even know what this is. What does that mean "dye"? What is it in? Then I read something that hits me: Most prescriptions for hyperactivity contain dye. If your child is acting out due to a dye sensitivity, you could be doing more harm than good by medicating them. Never one to shy away from a prescription, I'm suddenly terrified to medicate my son.  I tell my husband what I've found. He rolls his eyes at me, an expected reaction. Then I decide that I'll sleep on it. Maybe all the glare from the laptop screen has fried my brain.

That same day I did all of my research, I made my son one of his favorite breakfast foods - green pancakes. Regular pancake mix with loads of green food coloring. I also let him have colorful candy as a treat that day - he was a very good boy and this was his reward. The next day (Sunday, the day after all of my crazy Internet findings) we're sitting in church and I look over at my son, who is spinning in a circle in his seat. I tell him to stop. He stops, but starts swinging his arms. I tell him to stop. He stops but then starts kicking his legs. Again, I tell him to stop, very firmly. He gets the picture now. I look over again and he's fighting to sit still, and he has his one foot just kicking like there's no tomorrow. I tap my husband and point to our son. "He physically can't sit still", I tell him. Another eye roll. Also expected. We get home from church and I tell him I'm doing this dye-free diet I found online. I promise him that if he'll get on board and we do this for one month, I'll take our to the doctor at that point if we don't see any difference. He agrees.

I still don't know what I'm doing at this point and I'm not really sure what I just signed myself up for. Again, I head to Google to get started (very official, I know). I find a website for something called the Feingold Diet. It's a clean eating diet - no dyes, no preservatives, no artificial sweetners. It sounds great. I know immediatley, though, that I won't stick to this. It's too much too soon. Then I find out that a friend of mine went through this with her son and found out that he's red dye sensitive. I call her for advice. She gives me some great tips about things to steer clear from. There's dye in toothpaste? Sure enough, right there on the label.

To the grocery store we head, reading every label along the way. It takes forever to get through a usually quick trip to the store. When we get home, I email his teacher and tell her what we're trying. She is supportive and enthusiastic about it. Crap. Now we actually have to do this.