A recent Facebook conversation about a(nother) controversial New York Times piece on the prescribing of Ritalin to children generated the comment “I totally disagree with drugging young children, putting them on speed.”
To which I would reply: sing it, sister.
I would never put my kid on speed.
Except I did.
M is super bright. His IQ is off the charts. He’s artistic, & sensitive, & intense. He has lots of big feelings. He struggled for years in school with impulse control, with paying attention, with keeping focus when there were any distractions — like not having all the blinds on all the windows pulled all the way down, or the number of white daisy barrettes in the hair of his seatmate. The older he got, the more upsetting it was for him – he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t control his behavior, & it made him feel bad — the trying to, & the failing. Worse, it made him feel scared– the lack of control over his feelings, & his body. He would become hysterical, weeping, hyperventilating, “why can’t I stop crying, I can’t calm down, what’s wrong with me?” over, say, a LEGO ship construction gone wrong, or a broken banana.
& so we tried lots of things. Combinations of things. Elimination diets – purging artificial colors, artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, animal products. Supplements – vitamins, minerals, omega-3 oils. Testing. Meetings with the school principal, psychologist, his teacher, IEP leader, counselor, all of whom were doing backflips to accommodate him. The psychologist mentioning medication therapies & the principal cutting him off with, “That should only be a LAST resort!” Because, duh. I would never medicate my kid.
& then one afternoon, meeting with M & his pediatrician – after discussing the testing & the trying & the diet & the supplements, & do we go full Feingold? can we go full Feingold? – his pediatrician, a doctor & mother I chose because I respect & like & trust her, said, “You know, I wouldn’t offer this if you were asking for it, but there are medications. & Ritalin has been around for decades now. & I’ve been prescribing it to some of my patients over the past twenty years, & for a certain type of kid, it works very well. & I think it might work for M. & you can think about that, & let me know if you want to try it for a bit & see if it helps.”
& the next morning, as I was adding omega-3 oil to his organic orange juice, M said, “So, can we try that medicine?”
& I said, “You know, I think we’ll keep trying the omega oil for a while? & the diet? Because that medicine could have side-effects. It could make you feel flat, or drowsy, or hurt your stomach…” Or make your heart explode! I will not put my kid on speed!
& he said, “But if I don’t like how I feel on it, couldn’t I just stop taking it? Can’t we just try it & see? Because I don’t think the other stuff is working. I’m trying really hard, & it’s just not working.”
So we tried it. With me beating myself up about it, every fucking step of the way, embarrassed/ashamed to tell my family, my friends, other parents at pickup from school, or at the playground, that I was medicating my child. Because I would never medicate my child. I would never put my kid on speed.
I put my kid on speed. Starting on a weekend, so I could watch his every move, from the moment he swallowed the first green & white capsule. So I could wait for his eyes to go glassy, for his behavior to become robotic. So I could periodically put my hand over his small sternum, trying to gauge whether his heart was beating harder than usual.
I put my kid on speed.
I give my child a time-release formula of the lowest available dose of Ritalin with his breakfast, which wears off at about 3pm, as his school day is ending. He normally doesn’t take it on the weekends, or over breaks from school, or over the summer. But almost immediately after starting the dosage, his teachers saw a difference, & so did he. & so did we. He says it’s like turning off the background noise so he can focus on what he wants to do. Instead of being zombified, he’s somehow more – him. He still has big feelings, but generally he’s happier, because he feels more in control of the feelings & they aren’t as scary. His grades all went up within the first marking period of starting the medication, & he’s made honor roll all year; that makes him happy. He rarely gets behavior notes anymore, while he used to get several every week; that makes him happy, too. His creativity hasn’t suffered – if anything, he’s more prolific, writing stories in longhand during the day, & then typing them into the computer when he gets home.
He sees his doctor to check his blood pressure & his heart. & I’m hopeful, as is his doctor, that he’ll grow out of the medication & into his race-car of a brain — that by continuing to monitor his diet, modify/structure his routine, that the medicine will be a short-term piece of the puzzle. & I believe that any sort of drug we give our kid – whether it’s Tylenol or Ritalin or Benadryl or Zoloft – should be very carefully considered. & I’m grateful for this drug, now, because my kid was suffering. & now he’s not.