I think my oldest son accidentally left his instruction manual behind in my uterus the day he made an appearance 17 years ago. Because since that day — even though I had three more kids after him — I’ve been feeling like a complete and total novice at parenting him. Like I’m groping around in a dark room, fumbling for a light switch that will suddenly cast some clarity over the situation.
Of course, the ADHD diagnosis that he received when he was in second grade didn’t help. Up until that point, we had struggled to find a solution that worked for him but had come up empty-handed. The kid was brilliant; he tested gifted in Kindergarten, and his teacher that year even forwarded me a private email from the guidance counselor that said they’d need to make “special concessions” to accommodate his accelerated pace. But then the notes started coming home. Relentlessly.
He isn’t following procedures, they said. He isn’t staying in his seat. He doesn’t stop talking to other students. He’s acting very silly. He had a rough day today. It seemed that everyone, every day, from the classroom teacher to the music teacher to the lunchroom monitor, had something negative to say about his behavior. He wasn’t belligerent or aggressive or anything — but he was being seen primarily as a nuisance, which absolutely broke my heart.
“This is what he was doing while he was supposed to be doing his worksheet,” his Kindergarten teacher once told me during an impromptu school meeting, and handed me the worksheet … with an odd strip cut out of it. Then she handed me the cut-out strip; from the glue dried on each end, I could tell it was supposed to be a bracelet. One side said “FOR MOM,” and the other side said “I LOVE YOU MOM.” I wanted to cry. My baby.
He was always at a separate desk to improve his focus, always in the hallway, always at a different lunch table, always in a failed attempt to keep him quiet and in line. They said that it was meant to “minimize distractions” … though at its core, it felt personal. Very understandably, he hated being so ostracized all the time — but his dad and I were at a complete loss. Someone was dropping the ball when it came to this poor kid, but was it us? Was it his school?
When you’re the parent of a child like this, you feel helpless. You know your kid can be flighty and annoying, and you don’t blame the teachers for being peeved that they have to manage this and a classroom of other students. But at the same time, you feel outraged on behalf of your child, who clearly can’t help it, and is suffering as a consequence.
The school staff didn’t see the sweet and patient big brother my son was at home, or his hyper-focus as he intently watched documentaries on YouTube about everything from parasitic wasp larvae to the inner workings of the vocal cords. They only saw the kid who wouldn’t finish his worksheets or stay in his chair. It was like they were missing out on a crucial part of who he was, the exact thing that might have changed the way he was treated at school. I knew my kid wasn’t a “bad seed” … but it seemed like no one else did.
Eventually, we had him evaluated for ADHD, and he was given a clear diagnosis. We put him on medicine, which helped tremendously for a while, and I actually wondered why we hadn’t tried it sooner. But as he grew and his dosage needs changed, he began to develop side effects, and we opted to take him off of the meds by fifth grade. Then we were back at square one, because unmedicated ADHD does not do well in the classroom.
To be clear: ADHD medication was a godsend for a substantial period of time. Even despite my son’s less-than-ideal experience with it later on, I have zero regrets and would do it all over again. I know that making the decision to medicate is one of the hardest, because there’s such an unfair stigma attached to “drugging your kid.” (Insert all the eye rolls here.) You will get unsolicited opinions about it from … well, nearly everyone. But if your child is struggling, please know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with going that route!
However, if you’re on the fence — or you’re in the same boat as I am, and still not opting for meds but want to do something to help your child manage their ADHD, there’s a study outlined in a recent Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) that delivered some promising results: vitamin and mineral supplementation was shown to help alleviate ADHD symptoms.
In the triple-blind study — meaning that neither parents, kids, nor clinicians knew who was receiving treatment and who was receiving a placebo — 135 kids with unmedicated ADHD were given either micronutrient or placebo capsules for eight weeks. The micronutrient capsule contained all known vitamins and essential minerals. At the end of the eight-week study, the group being treated with the nutrients showed three times more improvement in their ADHD symptoms (54 percent versus 18 percent in the placebo group). The findings of this study seem to confirm the similar findings of a 2019 study conducted in New Zealand, which is also exciting.
“Supplementing with all known vitamins and essential minerals, at doses between Recommended Daily Allowance and Upper Tolerable Limit, may improve mood and concentration in children with ADHD and emotional dysregulation,” lead author Jeanette Johnstone, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Oregon Health & Science University and Helfgott Research Institute, National University of Natural Medicine, said in a press release. “These findings may offer guidance to doctors and families seeking integrative treatments for their children with ADHD and related emotional dysregulation.”
Not only did the research discover behavioral and emotional benefits for the kids with ADHD, but some surprising physical benefits as well: the micronutrient group grew six millimeters more in height than the placebo group. “The growth finding, also a replication from the previous child micronutrient study, is particularly encouraging, as height suppression is a concern with first-line ADHD medication,” Dr. Johnstone noted.
For parents who are at the end of their rope — and ADHD kids who are frustrated and misunderstood — the thought of being able to manage symptoms with a simple and well-tolerated treatment is very exciting news. Of course, further testing is needed to narrow down why this treatment seems to be effective, and no treatment works in 100 percent of cases. But sometimes when things seem hopeless, something like this seems kind of like finding that ever-elusive light switch: could this be it?
In the meantime, until science comes up with an ADHD treatment that works with pinpoint accuracy, we’ll stock up on multivitamins and cling desperately any shred of hope. We’ll continue to repeat directions like “get your shoes on” and try not to get frustrated when, 10 minutes later, our kid shows up still barefoot with a book in one hand and a sock in the other. We’ll field the notes from school, and be their advocates in the endless teacher meetings … but most of all, we’ll continue know in our hearts that their ADHD symptoms should never define the wonderful, amazing kids that they are. And we’ll work tirelessly until people see beautiful rainbow of their true colors.
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