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When ADHD Hits Home

Could we find hope in the midst of our son's behavior problems?

Ross was born by emergency C–section. He came into the world grabbing our attention, and that's how he's conducted his life thus far. Even as a baby, Ross was extremely active and never seemed to need sleep. He's our firstborn, so we didn't realize his rambunctious personality was unusual—and a sign of things to come.

As Ross became a toddler, I became aware of his stubborn nature and his inability to focus on a task or to follow simple instructions. Since he could watch an entire episode of Barney or Sesame Street, I ruled out attention problems. We concluded he was simply a strong–willed child in need of discipline.

Contradictions and conundrums at school

In kindergarten, Ross's teacher commented that he had a large vocabulary and seemed unusually bright. We were thrilled, but by the end of the year, the same teacher suggested Ross repeat kindergarten because of his immaturity and inability to complete work. We respected this teacher's opinion, but after prayer and discussion, my husband and I moved Ross on to first grade.

Our son, Ross, came into the world grabbing our attention, and that's how he's conducted his life thus far.

In first grade, things got worse. Ross was in the principal's office every week for disrupting the class by wandering around the classroom and aggravating fellow students. The school counselor suggested he might have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a neurobiological disorder that slightly impairs regions of the brain.

"How can this be?" I asked. "He's making straight As!" In light of his grades, she changed her mind.

"The problem must be at home," the counselor said, and with that she and the first–grade teacher dismissed my son and me. I started praying for a better second–grade experience.

Second grade was better. With Ross's improved–conduct grades, I grew confident our troubled years were behind us. At the end of the school year his teacher wanted to test his IQ because she thought he might be bored in the classroom. The test results revealed he qualified for a special program called GT (gifted and talented), with specialized classrooms and teachers. Feeling as though this might be the answer to our prayers, we enrolled Ross in the third–grade GT program, believing boredom might have been the problem all along.

We were wrong.

Ross continued to disrupt the classroom, and school became a place of torture for him. Once, a teacher announced to the entire classroom that Ross needed medication. We called a conference with this teacher, the school counselor, and the principal, and even though the teacher apologized for the remark, her frustration with Ross dominated our meeting. I walked away without the support I'd sought. Ross was so embarrassed by the incident, I was sure he experienced irrevocable damage to his self–esteem. During fits of frustration, he began to harm himself with head banging. After school, Ross really let go and would scream for up to 30 minutes. We were overwhelmed by his mood swings and aggression.

We enrolled Ross in sports after a counselor suggested we get him involved in team activities. But Ross had trouble adapting to the "team" idea, and his immaturity over missed balls and goals would end in public displays of uncontrollable crying. One mother told me Ross was a bad example to the rest of the team.

Ross was always sorry after his tantrums. Through tears of disappointment and frustration, he told me he didn't know why he did the things he did. With the same intensity, Ross snuggled next to me needing love and affirmation.

Ross's struggles affected the whole family. Our other two children developed the ability to disappear into their rooms during battles with Ross. Even our marriage grew shaky as we disagreed on ways to handle Ross's behavior. I often felt forced to choose between Ross's needs and giving the rest of my family the attention they deserved.

I began to question God. How could he let our family hurt so, when we really wanted to serve him? Sometimes while Ross was sleeping, I went into his room and prayed God would deliver him from all his troubles. I begged God to show me what we were doing wrong. God's answer was consistent, but not always what I wanted to hear: "Just love him, Laurie. Just love him." Sometimes this was difficult to accept. I wanted God to heal my son of whatever plagued him. I felt as though God had abandoned us.

A new solution & a bright future

Then I met Dr. Tess, a pediatrician at the local pregnancy care center I directed. I started taking my younger children to her for childhood ailments, and I mentioned Ross's problems during one visit. She listened intently, then asked to sit in on a parent–teacher conference at his school. As Dr. Tess heard story after story of Ross's inability to focus and follow directions and about his lack of respect for authority, she nodded confidently.

"The problem is very simple," she announced. "Ross has ADHD."

I protested. What about Ross's high IQ and his ability to focus on TV programs? Dr. Tess explained to me that an ADHD child could focus on television because it has changing pictures and rapid dialogue. She also assured me ADHD has nothing to do with intellect. She immediately suggested the drug Ritalin and gave us resources for parenting an ADHD child.

I was uncomfortable with the idea of medication. I'd heard Ritalin was overused for behavior control. I was also concerned about side effects. Dr. Tess persuaded me that going through 12 years of school frustrated and constantly in trouble could have severe social side effects—repercussions far more serious than other side effects experienced by a small percentage of Ritalin users. I realized Dr. Tess's advice was an answer to all my years of desperate prayers.

Ross was on Ritalin throughout his middle– and junior–high school years, and we saw vast improvement. It was as though the real person who'd been locked inside had been released. His confidence grew daily. Teachers seemed to genuinely like Ross, and he made athletic achievements. Ross is now 17 years old and takes Adderall XS, a slow–release drug that allows him to take only one dose in the morning before school.

We don't know the details of Ross's future, but we know God loves him and has a purpose in all our trials.

Medication has been a valuable tool in helping Ross at school, but we still face many challenges with disorganization and impulsive behavior. Nevertheless, I believe God will use Ross's affliction to his glory. I've stopped asking God to change him; I've started asking God to use him. Romans 5:3-4 says we are to "rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us."

We don't know the details of Ross's future, but we know God loves him and has a purpose in all our trials. And this brings a joy to our hearts only Christ can supply!

Laurie Westlake is a missionary on furlough with her family in Texas.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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