If you'd have told me 5 years ago that I'd be desperate for a diagnosis of ADHD for my baby, I'd have laughed you out of the room.
Actually, no. I'd probably have kicked you out of the room.
My baby? My perfect little boy, with the "naughty-kid disease"? NO FRIGGING WAY, MATEY!
We changed nursery when he was 2 (he started at 6 months) and all these new people who hadn't know him forever kept telling me, "Que no para, este !" ("This one never stops!"). Well, yeah. He's 2. Being busy and incessant is his job. Also, he's my first kid. Isn't this just - well - kids?
4 years ago, I still wouldn't have been receptive to it. We started school, and he struggled. I was really surprised, because although he'd been raised with almost 100% English at home, he'd always communicated well in Spanish and Catalan at nursery. Now he was getting frustrated and hitting, and I thought that maybe the language leap from baby time to school time had been too much for him and things would calm down once he'd got used to it. And for a while, they did.
P4 happened - his second year of school. I got a call in the middle of October (this call has since become an annual tradition), asking if we could have a meeting with the teacher.
We went to the meeting. He was disruptive during classes, unable to sit and engage. He was walloping the shite out of the other kids, but to be fair, they were 4 - so were a few others. We came up with a plan to work on naming his emotions, giving him words for his feelings, creating charts for home and rewards for when things went well; and carried on. His teacher was great - she set up a "Calm Corner" for him with books and cushions and an egg timer for him to watch, bought "emotions" books to help him articulate his feelings, and gave us some wonderful tips on how to manage things between school and home. The year wasn't perfect, but it was OK. His end of year report talked about how bright he was and how, once he'd learned to control himself a bit, they expected him to really do well (I'm paraphrasing).
P5 happened - what I consider "The Lost Year." He had a teacher who was retiring at the end of the year and I don't know if it was end-of-the-road lethargy or adherence to old-school methods, but we never managed to get a plan in place between us and the school that year. He was not happy while she was his teacher but we've bumped into her since and he's been DELIGHTED to see her, so, while her approach may not have helped, she's still been a positive influence on him and has contributed to him associating education with pleasure, so I can live with it.
1er - X. The first time I thought that maybe someone else was seeing what I was, and the first time I felt even slightly listened to.
He had his usual issues - getting distracted in class, disrupting the class when he was bored, climbing on or disappearing under tables, being aggressive, throwing things around...this was when it became really obvious to me that we weren't dealing with a normal range of behaviour. His peers were starting to settle down and chill out and, in comparison, he clearly was not (and we all know we shouldn't compare our kids, right! Which is DEAD EASY TO AVOID when they're hitting their milestones... try it when they're not and you don't know why!).
X was AMAZING, not only for the commitment she showed to Dom, but for her support of us as a family. She was with us 100%. She was our biggest ally. The first time we needed a meeting with her, I'd just started a new job and was taking time off was difficult. She offered to wait until 7pm, when I could get there (bear in mind, she finished at 4:30) to have this meeting. In the end, I managed to leave a bit early and we started the meeting at 6. We didn't walk out of that classroom until just before 9. She emailed us EVERY DAY with a progress report. SHE. WAS. AMAZING. I'm still so grateful to her, for the support that she gave us, for the love that she showed my son, and for the love that she showed ME. She caught me offguard once on a really hard day, put her arms around me, gave me a squeeze and told me, "You're a great mother. It's hard, but you're a great mother." Those words meant and still mean more than I can ever express to her.
Suffice it to say, we were devastated to hear that X wouldn't be coming back next year. Even though we knew that she wouldn't have been Dom's teacher even if she'd returned, we'd grown to depend on her warmth and innovation. But we'd done this before...
Shit started getting real. The kids in Dom's class were maturing. Dom's spates of lashing out were beginnng to lose him friends amongst the kids who saw him as "babyish" or "stupid" - difficult labels for an intelligent, sensitive kid to deal with. Worse, kids were starting to become afraid of his unpredictability and avoid him, which made him defensive and even more likely to kick off. His aggression became worse, and now that he was bigger and stronger, so did the results of his actions. His dad and I were getting calls from the school every day, and something had to give. Going to pick him up was AWFUL, always (for years, but suddenly a million times worse).
I need to make it clear that the school have been great throughout all of this, to the best of their abilities. We were referred to a psychologist through the school who worked with us last year, but the ten sessions available weren't enough. They helped us get a psychologist through the public health system, but Dom found those sessions more frustrating than anything, partly due to their short duration and the huge gap between each one.
Anyway, the last couple of months have been awful. Dom has been walloping the shite out of everyone who crosses him, and at home he talks about wanting to kill himself because "his brain tells him to do stupid things" and his self esteem is so low because he doesn't understand why he's doing these things that he doesn't want to do. Picking him up from school has become an exercise in damage limitation, as the other parents are understandably getting pissed off that their kids are coming home with injuries from my kid. Dom hates that he does this, but doesn't know why he does and feel powerless to stop it in the long term. He thinks he's just "a bad boy" and it kills me because my God, this kid is loving and hilarious and so frigging clever and WONDERFUL.
I haven't just been sitting back and watching for the last 5 years as his behaviour spirals out of control. When he was 2, 3, 4, I was told to just wait and see, wait and see. Then we moved house and I split with his dad and was told that he was probably just adjusting. We've been seeing a psychologist on and off for two years and been taught how to deal with him after the fact and give him psychological tools to use when he's angry, but it hasn't made a difference. More and more, I've felt that this isn't something that's in his immediate control - he's DEVASTATED by his actions after the fact (not just upset by the consequences of his actions). He wants so much to be a "good boy," and MY GOD he is - with younger kids, he's the kindest, most caring little soul you'll ever encounter. I'm forever getting stopped outside the school by parents of kids in the lower classes telling me how wonderful my son is, how kind, how caring, how loving. Their kids grab their hands and clamour, "Mama, mama, ahi esta el Dom!", desperate to introduce their parents to my boy because they idolise him and his kind hands and his patience.
The kids his own age and older wouldn't recognise that version of my baby.
So, last week, we (his dad and I) went to the Fundació TDAH (ADHD Foundation). And for the first time, someone else saw this as the genuine crisis that it is. They didn't tell us to wait and see, they didn't tell us to "Try more positive reinforcement" or "more consequences" or anything. I laid it out bare for them, and they said, "This kid needs help. NOW." And we're on the path. And I'm so relieved and so happy and sad, yes, because no mother wants to think that her kid's going to need extra support to live a normal life, ever. But it is what it is, and after 4 years of fighting for my baby to be recognised and helped, we have that help. And honestly, if anyone isn't happy about that, keep it to yourselves, because this is a breakthrough for us.
I've never mentioned it to Dom before that appointment because I've never had that professional opinion to "validate" it. The other day, I said to him, "Some people's brains are like a nice, quiet beach where you just lie and watch the sunset. Some people's brains are like a Formula 1 track, where everything is too fast and loud. Some are like a beehive, where things are just coming and going all the time. Some are like a street, where sometimes it's busy and sometimes it's quiet. What does your brain feel like?" Straight away, he was like, "Formula 1, mama. It's too fast all the time."
Jesus, my poor baby has been getting punished all the time for stuff he can't control. I know a diagnosis isn't going to magically fix it, but now we can teach him how to control it. His Formula 1 brain gets to be on the right track.
So yes - I'm delighted that my baby might be diagnosed with ADHD. Because when it has a name, it has a treatment plan and a support network and HOPE. And if you don't like it, you need to examine your own prejudices and consider why you don't want that for us.