“Ben did not attend school…and again our classroom is like a different place –
peaceful, happy and lots of fun.” (Words written in 10.07)
I have to take a deep breath every time I read this teacher’s description of her classroom minus one student…my son, Ben.
Our story isn’t unique, but it is personal. It is a story of one family’s journey, its choices and the consequences of those choices. It is not intended to be controversial, a social statement or a political one regarding the way families and communities address children’s behavior. It is, however, a story of hope, courage, sheer grit and determination. It is my story, my family’s story and it begins with Ben.
Ben is my first child and he’s four years old. If you ask him, he’ll proudly show you how many fingers he is old. He likes trains, trucks, cranes, weather, golf and doing headstands. And as the saying goes, he is “energy with skin.” Since Ben was very young, my husband and I have known that he was different. Energetic? Yes. Impulsive? You bet! In the beginning, I read all of the books and spent countless hours on the Internet trying to tie his behaviors into a common theme. Was it his diet? The amount of sleep he was getting? Was it just his age? Was it bad parenting? I stayed awake deep into the night going over the details, asking myself where I may have gone off track. I couldn’t figure out how I could have messed up so badly, so quickly, yet I had no idea what else could be contributing to my son’s behavior. I was a stay-at-home mother with a master’s degree, after all! I had read the books! And here I was, terrified to send my son to preschool for fear of what he would do - impulsively - to another child/staff member. Every time the phone rang during preschool time, my heart raced for fear of who would be calling. Usually it was the director, asking me to pick Ben up from yet another disaster-filled day.
Before school Ben and I would review the school and playground rules; he aced all of the answers. And on a regular basis, when we were snuggled up tight in his bed at night, he would look at me with wide hazel eyes and tell me that he was a bad boy. My heart ached for him. All of us felt the wear and tear of what seemed to be an endless cycle of misbehavior.
Yet it was impossible to ignore that there was a problem as his teachers mentioned private mental health professionals and other county programs that could “help”. My son was aggressive, impulsive, rough, non-compliant and impulsive and I had no clue as to why. I was guilt-ridden, an emotional wreck, exhausted and terrified.
Of course many people suggested their own theories about Ben’s behavior. Some were kind, saying that he’d grow out of it. Some went as far as unofficially diagnosing him with autism. Others were accommodating, telling me that their own children had done the same thing when they were that age. Then, others tossed out the old phrase, “Boys will be boys.” Oh no, I recall telling myself, not on my watch.
After searching fruitlessly on our own for a common thread to explain our son’s behaviors and responses, we asked a local psychologist for help. He listened carefully to our story, read the reports and watched Ben closely. And then we sat down to talk. He explained that Ben is trying to do his best, living with the chemical imbalance that causes Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
I remember thinking, how could this be? My little boy’s only three years old. Here was one of the most well-respected psychologists in our area telling my husband and me that our son had a neurochemical cause for his behavior? I was speechless, surprised and deeply saddened to know that there was a real, substantive reason for all of the pain, chaos and sheer frustration that we had been experiencing for so many months. There was a reason and it was called ADHD.
And then I just sat with the news for several weeks, letting it sink in and take shape. Taking the time to grieve for the sad little boy who had no idea why he did the things he did, to celebrate the hope for his future, to practice saying the letters: ADHD.
Today Ben is still the verbal, bright, funny and strong-willed little guy he’s always been, but with the help of a structured daily schedule, lots of physical activity, medication, occupational therapy and social skills group participation, we are excited about the progress that he is making. More and more often, he’s looking people in the eyes when he talks with them. He’s asking others “Can I play?” We have more work to do, but Ben is making clear and consistent progress. His teachers are noticing, too.
We are now at work catching up on so many missed moments and milestones. We can finally stop together to watch a spider. Ben now wants to hug us and tell us that he loves us. He has the ability to stop to think where his feet go on the pedals of a bicycle and knows to stop at an intersection. His first response is no longer to hit, bite or spit at others when frustrated or angry. We still have goals to accomplish, but we are on our way, supported by a strong team of friends, family and the professionals who interact and work with Ben on a weekly basis.
Countless times, I wonder what would have happened had I lived in fear and done nothing to find out the reason for Ben’s behaviors. I am filled with wonder and awe at his growing abilities and interests. His interest in the world is abundant and never-ending; I am thrilled to witness every discovery.
Just like every family, we have our bad days and our crummy moments. However, how we view Ben’s ADHD, as a blessing or an albatross, is critical. We consciously and consistently choose to view it as a blessing, and we make that choice every day.
Recently, Ben appeared in his first stage performance. During the finale, each child entered onto the stage carrying an inspirational statement. Ben’s said, “I have a big heart.” Through my tears, I couldn’t have imagined a more appropriate phrase to describe our little boy. That heart will one day belong to a grown man. But for right now, it’s our job to help guide him, teach him, support him and most of all love him. Consider it done.
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Written by CR