Answers to the ADHD Question

It is always nice to have your opinions about your child validated by an objective professional. I was happy to comply with Hansei’s request that we have Alex tested, but I seriously doubted that he really did have ADHD. He is distractible and full of energy and hard to handle sometimes, but ADHD? At the same time, though, I wondered — did his behavior just seem normal to me because I’m his mother and that’s how he’s always been? So I am grateful to have a definitive answer to the ADHD question.

And the answer is that while he does exhibit some tendencies of ADHD, they are mild, and do not require medication. The possibility that behavior-altering medication would be recommended or prescribed was probably my main concern. I would have been willing to try almost anything else, including a strict diet, before going there. I am not against medication, and I do believe that ADHD is a true disorder and there are instances where medication is necessary and helpful. I guess what I have a problem with is the suggestion that I should medicate my child just because it makes life easier for his teachers.

We spent some time discussing possible “accommodations” to make learning easier for Alex — things like sitting in front of the class where there are less distractions, giving his hands something to do while he is listening (squishy balls), and allowing him to move around to expel energy. I have the results in both English (for my own records) and Spanish (to give to the school), which is nice.

Alex also took the WISC intelligence test, and came out on the “high average” end. He actually scored higher on the 2 components that are more inborn, and lower on the 2 components that are learned skills, which the counselor said is totally normal for a kid his age. In her words, “He’s very smart, and he’s only going to get smarter.” I wonder if this might explain some of his behavioral problems? Kids do tend to act out more when they are bored.

One thing the counselor asked Alex to do during the testing was draw a picture of his family. These drawings are then analyzed (kind of like dream analysis, which I have never put much stock in). Anyway, here is what Alex drew:

alex family

 

And the first thing you notice about the picture is that all the legs are super long — actually, Alex and Stephen are more proportional, but Rusty and I have unnaturally long legs. Anyway, according to the experts, children who draw really long legs are trying to tell you they need more stability in their lives.

Interesting, no? I like to think that Alex is saying, in his limited, 7-year old way, “Enough already!” If you know anything about our journey the past 7 years, since Alex was born, you know that we have basically been through one transition after another. It always seemed to me that Alex took it all in stride, but I have also wondered often over the past several years if there would be emotional and behavioral repercussions to all our moving around and changing course mid-stream. This drawing gives me at least an inkling of the answer to that question and helps me recognize that providing stability and security is of utmost importance to our children’s health and development over the next few years.

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Recap of the Past 2 Weeks

It feels like a million years since I last wrote. But it’s really been only two weeks. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • We finally got to meet with the counselor at Alliance to go over the results of the ADHD and intelligence tests that Alex took. This is really worth a post in and of itself, but in summary, while he does have mild tendencies toward ADHD, it was not anything the counselor felt warranted further testing or medication.
  • We went to see “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and it totally rocked! Best movie I have seen in a long time — I absolutely love what they have done with the series reboot! We had to settle for the 3D version, which I usually try to avoid because it makes me sick to my stomach; however, this time, I barely noticed after awhile. The technology must be getting better.
  • Neill and Julie stayed with us for over a week, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We took them up to Papallacta one day to soak in the hot springs, and Neill helped Rusty do some work on our Land Rover. They headed off to Columbia, their next stop on their round-the world venture, last Monday.
  • We had our friends the Yorks over for one last meal and round of Dominion before they headed back to the U.S. and their new life there. We will sure miss them!
  • We celebrated our 14th anniversary with a two-night stay at the Black Sheep Inn, in a truly lovely part of Ecuador near the stunning Quilotoa Crater Lake. Also worth it’s own blog post. The kids stayed with Josh and Julie and had so much fun they didn’t want to leave! Stephen actually started crying when we pulled up to the house to pick them up, and it wasn’t because he missed us.

Okay, so that was all just the first week. Last week, we finished a 2-month stint of focused language classes. After all the craziness of the past several weeks, I am honestly looking forward to taking a break from Spanish studies for awhile. It was all I could do to get through that last week, and now that it’s over, I want nothing more than to just curl up in my bed and hibernate away from the world for at least a week with my Robert Jordan book (now on #3, with 11 to go). But, well, I’ve got these 3 kids that need to be fed and clothed and educated. And Rusty left on Sunday for the jungle and the first medical mission of the summer, so it’s all on me for the next few days.

I’m hopeful that as life slows down some over the next several weeks, I’ll have more time to devote to writing and some other projects. I’m actually going to be guest-posting on 2 other blogs in the next couple of months! I’ll be sure to link those up here once they go live.

What I Like Best

Today, Alex and I met with the school counselor at Alliance Academy International, the Christian missionary school here in Quito. When Hansei first asked us to consider having Alex tested for ADD/ADHD, the main challenge was finding somewhere that would do the testing in English. My sister (who works part-time at Alliance) made some inquiries, and they graciously agreed to allow him to be tested there, even though he is not one of their students. We were there about 2 hours, but I was not in the room while the counselor was administering the tests, so until we have our follow-up appointment in two weeks, I won’t really have any answers. But my initial impression, just from the few words I exchanged with her after the tests, is that he performed well, but had a hard time concentrating and staying focused. Which is fairly consistent with what I have observed and experienced as his mother/teacher.

While Alex was doing his tests, I was given a bunch of forms to fill out in the lobby. Forms that ask questions about your child’s behavior, academic performance, social skills, etc. Most were answered simply by circling a number, but there was one that had a few open-ended questions with lines for writing your response. About halfway into this form, I encountered the question, “What concerns you most about your child?” followed by, “What do you like best about your child?” That second question brought me up short because I wasn’t expecting it, given the context. I mean, wasn’t I there because of my child’s problems, whatever those are perceived or determined to be? I wasn’t there to talk about his good characteristics or skills; I was there to get some answers for how to deal with those things society deems unacceptable!

And then I realized, I have been so focused on problematic behaviors over the last several weeks — ever since he started attending Hansei — that I have failed to recognize all the things about Alex that are wonderful and special and endearing. I have allowed the notes being sent home by his teachers describing the ways he is acting out to stress me out to the point where I am struggling to see and praise him for the things he is doing well. Several hours later, as I sit here reflecting on the events of the day, I am so grateful for that question! I’m grateful because it forced me to stop thinking about all the things that are “wrong” with my child and look, really look, for all that’s right and good, unique and precious. I’m a perfectionist, as I’ve mentioned before, and I think I’ve realized that I need to be careful not to let my perfectionism extend to my children, holding them to an unattainable standard and causing them endless frustration in the process.

Here, then, is my answer to the question of “what I like best about my child.” I tried to remember everything I wrote down on the questionnaire. I have also added a few additional thoughts and explanations:

  • He is smart and inquisitive. He knew all the capital letters of the alphabet by the time he was 2; he’s learned not one but 2 foreign languages well enough to communicate with other kids his age (and he’s only 7!); he has an amazing memory and vocabulary; and he soaks up knowledge and information like a sponge. He figures things out so quickly, sometimes it is hard to keep one step ahead of him!
  • He is tender-hearted and compassionate — when he wants to be. He generally plays well and is careful with children who are younger and smaller than him (he has been used to being “bigger” and “older” most of his life). He loves giving gifts, and he is very affectionate. Already, at 7 years old, he understands that there are many poor and disadvantaged people in the world and that he has a responsibility as a person of privilege, to do what he can to help them.  For his sixth birthday, he agreed to collect money for needy children instead of receive presents of his own, and every time he goes out to Kumanii, he takes a backpack filled with little toys to give away to the children he meets on the river.
  • He is outgoing, friendly, and social. He makes new friends easily and loves to be around people. (He gets all this from his father, I know, because this is not my way AT ALL!)
  • He leaps into new situations with confidence and enthusiasm. He is not usually fearful or timid — in fact, sometimes, I wish he was just slightly more cautious so he wasn’t getting hurt so often! He tries new foods without complaining and has a pretty varied palate for a 7-year old (he likes snails, green tea, and Indian curry, for example). We have traveled the world with him since he was a tiny baby, moved many times, enrolled him in school in 2 foreign countries now, and he just takes it all in stride. He handles change better than many adults I know, including myself!

Perspective is so important, and I’m thankful to have regained a little of it today. No matter what happens in 2 weeks, no matter what the results show, no matter how we decide to proceed, I want my son to know that he is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and that I am so very proud of him, so grateful that he is a part of our family, and so blessed to be his mama!

Tomorrow

I am an anxious person. A worry wart. A pessimist. I worry so constantly, I’m actually surprised I don’t suffer from ulcers or some other chronic condition. The other day, when I went in to get my driver’s license, I was so nervous, I had butterflies in my stomach and sweaty palms. I couldn’t even read the book I brought with me! I was worried I wouldn’t understand something that they said to me in Spanish; I was worried I wouldn’t pass the eye exam (it has been 11 years since I had new glasses!); I was worried I wouldn’t pass the theory exam. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried about any of those things. I communicated well; they didn’t even make me take an eye exam, just noted that I was wearing glasses; and I got a perfect score (20/20) on the computerized theory exam.

As we were walking out, my husband said he didn’t know why I get so worked up about things like this. He wasn’t being mean, but I know he thinks I’m silly. It’s hard to explain this aspect of my personality to someone who generally flies through life by the seat of his pants.

And the thing is, there is always something to worry about. It’s part of being human and having a life, I think. Tonight, I find myself worrying about tomorrow. Tomorrow, I am taking Alex in for a psychological evaluation. We are having him tested for ADD/ADHD at his school’s request, and they are also going to do some type of intelligence test as well on him. I know I shouldn’t borrow trouble before we know the outcome and the official diagnosis, but the questions keep whirling around in my mind. What if he does have ADD/ADHD? Does this mean expensive medication with tons of side effects? Does it mean other lifestyle alterations, such as a strict diet? Does it mean a permanent label among teachers and authority figures as a “difficult” or “problem” child?

And beyond the practical questions, lurk the more sinister, guilt-inducing worries — that my son is the way he is because of my own failings as a parent. Have I been too lenient? Have I been too strict? Do I expect too much? Should I expect more? Has the transience that has marked our life since he was an infant done irreparable damage? Have we made him the way he is because we have denied him stability and permanence?

Like most parents, I’m trying to do my best with the precious souls God has entrusted to my care for the time being. But what do you do when your best doesn’t seem to be good enough?

It’s at times like this that the following verse is such a comfort to me:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7, MSG)

Discouraged

Ever have one of those days where everything just seems to hit you all at once? That’s what Thursday was for me.

First, I was stressed over what was happening with Alex at his new school. Apparently, he made life pretty miserable for his teacher last week, leading the school to question if the class they had put him in was the best one for him. He came home on Wednesday with two notes written in his school notebook, one from the 2nd grade teacher, explaining some of his behaviors and why he wasn’t going to be in her class anymore… and the other from his new teacher, the Kindergarten teacher. Ummm, okay, so 2nd grade wasn’t working out, so they decided to move him back two grades? As it turns out, when Rusty went in to talk to them, they told him they felt like 1st grade was too full, and there were already 4 kids in 1st grade with special needs or learning problems or something, so they didn’t want to add Alex into that mix.

I’m really fine with Alex being in the Kindergarten class. As I said before, I’m more in favor of holding kids back than pushing them ahead, especially in the beginning. I just wish the school had explained to us the situation from the beginning (the correct class for his age was full) and let us decide whether we wanted him to be a grade ahead or behind so we could have avoided this mess. To me, it’s not really important what grade he is in — he is there to learn Spanish and for the social interaction. Academically, he is way ahead of the other students in Kindergarten, so I will probably have to send stuff from home for him to do so he doesn’t finish early, get bored, and cause problems for the teacher and the other students.

I’m mostly frustrated because I feel like Alex has already earned himself the reputation there as being a problem child. The school has asked us to have a neurological and psychological evaluation done on him. They suggested he might have ADD or ADHD. I’m not denying that might be a possibility (although I do think that high-energy boys are often falsely labeled such), but I do feel like they are being awfully quick to start requesting testing when he hasn’t even had a chance to adjust to this new environment. After all, he hasn’t been in a formal school environment for a year and a half, he’s immersed in a new language that he can’t yet communicate well in, and he was put in the grade ahead of where he should be. And they’re surprised when he has trouble adapting?! I’m not excusing some of his behavior (much of it was totally unacceptable, whether or not he can communicate well, and we had some pretty serious talks about it on Wednesday night), but I do think that once he adjusts and knows the routine, the expectations, the rules, and above all how to communicate his needs and problems, the acting out will diminish.

So, I was feeling anxious about all that, and then Rusty started telling me about the meeting he had with Kent and Josh the day before where apparently it came out that there had been some criticism as to his performance leveled at him by some folks on the medical campaign. I think it is interesting how people can come on these week-long campaigns, people who don’t even know you or have a vested interest in you or your ministry (i.e. they are not personal supporters or from a supporting church), see one aspect of what you do, and then feel like that somehow gives them the knowledge and the authority to critique you personally or how you are doing your job! Are missionaries the only ones who deal with this, or does this happen in other professions? I am sincerely asking — this is not a rhetorical question! I have been thinking about it all day, wondering if this happens to other people in other jobs. We don’t claim to be perfect, we still have much to learn (we haven’t even been here a year for goodness’ sake!), we make mistakes and bungle things up daily and probably will continue to do so for years to come! I guess it would just be nice if people would take the time to know us and understand our unique situation and the team dynamics we are working with here in Ecuador before being so free to offer up their criticisms.

I probably just need to grow a thicker skin. There will always be critics. I know this.

Also, Rusty left on Thursday for a weekend trip to Kumanii. We went to the bank to take out some money before we left — he needed cash for the trip, and I needed to pay the ladies who help me around the house. And none of our cards would work in the ATM — we tried his bank card and mine, as well as a credit card from a different bank and could not get money out with any of them. Which probably signifies a problem on the Ecuadorian bank’s end, or a problem with all international cards. Still, it was frustrating. And on the way out of town, Rusty called to inform me that he’d been pulled over for “speeding” (going 2 km. per hour above the speed limit) and given a $90 ticket. Really, Ecuador? Really?!

Sometimes, it’s the compilation of little daily annoyances on top of all the major stresses of living in a foreign country (learning to speak a new language and adapting to a new culture for instance) that just make that first year or two abroad so difficult. And sometimes, it just seems to come at you all at once, like waves relentlessly crashing over you, making it hard to catch your breath. After Thursday, I was grateful for a peaceful weekend at home, for crackling fires in the fireplace each night, for “Downton Abbey” with my sister last night, for a long nap this afternoon.

And I’m looking forward to our family vacation at the beach next week!