Daniel and I began our adoption journey early with our hearts open to a child with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). Our first child through adoption didn’t get a diagnosis, but by the time our second and third sibling set were toddlers, it was very evident we were dealing with FASD.
Being new to the parenting world of FASD, it took us a while to realize what was typical child development and what wasn’t. Toddlers in any form can be quite crazy! Signs of ADHD were evident, and I knew it often went hand in hand with FASD. Where we lived, you had to get diagnosed through a long assessment process, which had a 2 year wait list. Since FASD cannot be assessed until age 5 or older, I knew I couldn’t put the kids on the wait list until they were about 3. It was when my daughter was 3 years old that I got my first taste of the medication push.
I was in the pediatrician’s office with my 4 kids, aged 5, 4, 3 and 2 years old, attempting to maintain some level of calm. The appointment was to review my 3 year old daughter and get her on the wait list for her FASD assessment. The appointment took quite a while and involved all 4 kids being in a tight, confined room while mostly the pediatrician and I spoke. I won’t go into the behaviors of the other kids, but during the visit my 3 year old was bouncing off the walls. She couldn’t sit still for more than a second and she was getting into everything. She wasn’t misbehaving in any way, but she was definitely VERY active. As we discussed her case he stated that he believed my daughter had ADHD, and that she should be put on meds right away. He further stated that if I DIDN’T put her on meds, my younger daughter would be ruined and would have no hope of normal behavior. To say I was shocked is an understatement. To imply the ruining of a child based on the medication of another child, seemed absurd.
I walked away from the appointment angry and associating medication with this doctor in a negative light. How could I even consider medication? All I had ever heard was horror stories. Stories about how children today are over medicated, medication leaves them in a vegetative state, they no longer have a personality, and other horrific sounding side effects that should never happen to sweet, tiny children.
A few more years passed and medication rolled in and out of my mind. Each time it was mentioned or I had a fleeting thought about it, I quickly pushed it out of my mind. I just couldn’t give those big, bad pills to my sweet children. In the media they had been painted as the very thief of souls themselves.
Daniel and I struggled through parenting my second oldest and youngest child over the next few years. Their behaviors were extreme and we attempted every different type of approach we could think of. We poured over attachment parenting, positive parenting, and FASD strategies to try and manage their behaviors the best we could. We altered their diets, went organic and gluten free, and cut out dyes and processed foods (well for the kids, I still enjoyed my chocolate cake when they went to bed). Our daughter was in the thick of Kindergarten and my son in grade 2. We were to the point that my daughter couldn’t attend school full-time anymore and my husband had to stay home in the mornings just to help me get my son dressed for the day. Driving terrified me and I would spend hours (to no avail) trying to figure out how to keep my son restrained in the vehicle. It was a stressful time and neither of us knew what to do.
It was about this time that we got referred to a new pediatrician. She was an amazing pediatrician who was kind, understanding, and really listened to what we had to say. We had finally received an FASD diagnoses for one of them, and an ADHD with likelyhood of FASD for the other.
(**sometimes FASD can be diagnosed at age 5, but ideally it is done when the child is 9 and able to complete the academic portion. If your child does not get the FASD diagnosis at age 5, it doesn’t mean they don’t have it. They should be booked for a secondary assessment again at age 9)
The doctor brought up the idea of medication for both the kids, and I quickly explained to her my fears and concerns. She calmly responded to all my fears, and as it turned out, myths, about what medication was actually like. She explained that children who seemed zoned out, or no longer like themselves, were over medicated, meaning they had too high of a dose. Under the appropriate dosage, kids still remain their same, usual, fun loving self, but have the opportunity to concentrate and succeed more.
It is important to mention that there is no cure or medication for FASD. However, since FASD and ADHD go hand-in-hand so often, ADHD medications are often prescribed for kids with FASD. You can think of it as taking the edge off, or in some kids, giving them an opportunity at a better life.
After hearing this new information, I was still nervous, but much more at ease to giving medications a chance. We had reached the end of our rope with parenting, and didn’t know what other options we had. She handed me a prescription for two of my kids, and we were on our way.
That first morning I was nervous more than I can say. The doctor said we would start with the lowest dose, see how the kids do, and raise it or keep it the same accordingly. We gave the kids their meds and waited. After roughly two days, I entered a new world. I had found a game changer.
I no longer had to dress my son. Within 30 minutes of taking his medication, it was like he was a new child. He was happy, he was sweet, he offered to help, and he managed to do things on his own. Was he cured? No. He still couldn’t manage very well if someone got him upset, but the triggers happened WAY less often, and for more deserving offenses.
My daughter, who had the energy level of a roadrunner in the morning, mixed with the shrieks of a pterodactyl and the disobedience of a puppy, was suddenly quiet and listening. Not in a zombie sort of way…but in a way that other parents must experience parenting on a regular daily basis. I couldn’t believe it. The morning routine improved DRASTICALLY and I was finally able to drive to school without worrying about my son. After school activities even became possible. Was this how other people actually lived?
It wasn’t just their behavior at home it effected, but at school too. In kindergarten, my daughter had virtually no friends. Most kids couldn’t manage her behavior, and she required a lot of interventions. By the end of the year she wasn’t even able to attend school full-time. By grade 1, with her new medications, she started the year off AMAZING! She made friends, she made it through class, and she improved drastically in her academics. She improved so much that she no longer required specialized help for academics and was doing the same work as the other kids in her class. My son no longer had ANY behavioral problems at school. In fact, to this day, his workers are always shocked when I bring up any of his behaviors at home (he still requires help for academics).
I couldn’t believe I had waited SO long to try medication. We struggled for YEARS, terrified of the effects that medications might have on our kids. I soon realized, the effects of NOT taking the medications were even greater. When safety starts to become an issue, it is time to seriously take medications into consideration. When kids aren’t thriving, then solutions need to be sought.
Were the medications a cure? No.They definitely were not. By the afternoon the meds begin to wear off and parenting becomes more challenging. It affects their appetite and both my kids have struggled to grow and gain weight. It can keep them up really late at night if it is not given early enough (hence the 5:30am wake up calls). But those would be the only negative aspects we have seen so far, and the positive affects have far outweighed the negative. We recently had my older daughter diagnosed and discovered she was suffering from extreme ADD, so she is now taking meds too. She doesn’t take them specifically for her behavior, but rather to help her concentrate at school and have the ability to learn. We have seen drastic and amazing improvements in all of our kids.
Does this means medication is for everyone? Definitely not. It is always best to talk to you doctor about what is right for you and your child. Every child responds different to medication and there are many different medication options out there. I do, however, hope this has at least eliminated some fears, perhaps the same fears I had, and give you some hope that there is help out there.
You might also enjoy my Top 10 Sensory Toys for ADHD and FASD!
Have you been struggling with looking into medication? I would love to hear how your journey has gone!
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