Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Life with Derek - Looking Forward

Not long ago, Derek and Anna decided to ride their bikes while waiting for the school bus. Anna pulled her bike out of the shed and began pushing it up the rock road toward the cemented area at her grandparents. She had gotten a pretty good head start on her brother because he had to finish packing his school bag first, but Derek is strong enough to ride his bike on the rock road so he caught up with her quickly. I walk onto the scene just as it occurred. Anna was happily pushing her bike and Derek was happily riding his – directly behind her. He was looking down at his pedaling feet, completely unaware that he was about to plow into his sister. I called out, but it was too late. In an instant Anna was on the ground, sobbing and holding her knee. Derek was off his bike, looking confused and concerned.

Looking forward is something Derek really needs to work on. This is the same boy who, two years ago, ran full force into the back of his grandfather’s parked truck, slicing the top of his head open. Yes, the top of his head. You see, just like with the bike, he was looking DOWN at his feet as he raced home. It was around then we learned he had slight dexterity issues. An Occupational Therapist officially diagnosed him with “Lack of Coordination.“ Seriously. Did you know that is a real medical diagnosis – with an ICD (International Classification of Diseases) code number and all? I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Derek very much enjoyed his OT appointments. And why not? They were fun. The OT equipment looked a lot like toys to him. He was sad when his therapist decided that he had advanced enough to discontinue visits. He is still just slightly uncoordinated enough that I don’t see a future for him in sports, but not so much that he stands out among the other, somewhat awkward, 10 year olds he plays with. But while his balance may have improved, his ability to focus on what is in front of him still needs work.

Learning to physically look ahead is one goal - hopefully his new glasses will help with that! His vision deteriorated quite a bit this past year. Watching him struggle to read even the big letters with his old glasses on was kinda heartbreaking. But vision aside, an even bigger goal is for Derek is to think ahead. To be fair, he has come a long way in that area. A couple of years ago, he still acted on impulse more often than not. It was a rare week that he didn’t have some type of discipline note come home from school. Naturally I wanted to do anything and everything that would help my child, but the school system left me feeling almost as frustrated as he was. He was in their care for most of his waking hours. Little by little, I watched my sweet, happy baby boy sink into a reactive, discouraged child. His love of learning was replaced with an “I hate school” attitude. Hearing those words come out of his mouth was what finally convinced me to give conventional medication a try. Up until that point, I held on to the fading hope that proper nutrition (which he wasn’t getting thanks to his intense food aversions) and herbal supplements were going to help. Having him labeled as ADHD wasn’t my worry. It was the medication that I feared most.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll gladly give my children antibiotics for strep throat, ear infections and so on. Xopenex and Pulmicort (a bronchial dilator and inhaled steroid) were life saving meds for my children that I am very grateful for. And while I’ll usually turn to zinc, Echinacea and vit C when I feel a cold coming on, I’m not above going to the doctor when those things aren’t enough. I have great respect for the medical community – mostly. Mood-altering meds, however, scare me (I also have issues with pain meds, but that’s another story.) The idea of drugging my son so that he would behave in school was something that I struggled over. For some reason that bothered me more than if, for instance, we would have been doing it to help his grades. Derek hasn’t really needed help in that area and naturally I’m grateful for that. But of course, school isn’t just about grades. So in a frustrated effort to help my child stop getting into constant trouble at school, I agreed to give ADHD meds a try. Much to my relief, he did NOT turn into Zombie Boy as I feared. Instead, just the opposite happened. It was as though he came alive again. Not in a hyperactive way, but in a “wow, I can think clearly” way. Instead of binding his emotions, the medication actually gives him more control over them. He still makes poor choices sometimes, but instead of melting down, lashing out or getting defensive when corrected, he now does something that I hadn’t seen him do in a long while. He apologizes. No prompting necessary! He’ll actually talk over what he’s done and comes up with ideas about what he should have done instead.

Wow, right? Well, maybe it’s not wow to you, but it is for me. I realize now that it isn’t just the behavior we are addressing. It is the thought process (or lack thereof) that leads to the behavior!

Sometimes I’ll even hear him weighing possible consequences of an action BEFORE he jumps into something. Not always but it’s getting better. When things do get rough, I try to remember that he is maturing day by day and that I too have to look ahead.

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