Balancing School and Life

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adhd inattentive and lifeLast week, I told you about what’s been going on at our house. Recent events included theatre, usual homework, high expectations, and Lesley’s panic attack. One part of our solution has been to simplify Lesley’s routine and not allow her to be over scheduled.

This week, I’d like to fill you in on the role of Lesley’s ADHD medicine.

I don’t want to portray ADHD medicine as a necessary evil or the root of every health problem. I also don’t want to go to the other extreme and say the medicine was all we needed to fix ADHD. Neither extreme opinion is verifiable.

Interestingly enough, last week was parent/teacher conference week here, and Lesley gave a presentation on her goals and what she’s doing to meet them. She talked about challenges, and how she overcame them. Naturally, the issue of ADHD came up. In one of her reflections, she asked the question “Would I take ADHD medicine if I had to do it again?”

And her answer was a resounding “yes.”

Medicine to control ADHD tendencies is no panacea, but I’ve watched my daughter greatly improve in time management. Specifically, when she comes home from school, she’s already prioritized her tasks. Is this a habit or did the medicine give her the focus to form the habit?

Another area of improvement is her confidence in the classroom. She doesn’t hesitate to raise her hand and contribute to class discussions. She’s nervous for presentations, but she consistently does well with them. Her grades are very good, and she wants them to stay that way. Can I attribute her motivation to medicine or maturity or both?

That said, what are the concerns I have about my daughter taking the medicine?

By lunchtime, I can ascertain if Lesley’s taken her medicine or not. My insight isn’t all that complicated. If she eats half a sandwich and a couple carrot sticks, she remembered. If she has 2 sandwiches, popcorn, veggies with peanut butter and a cup of tea, she forgot. The medicine suppresses appetite, and that’s always been a concern for a growing willowy kid.

One of the worst feelings I have as Lesley’s mom is waking up in the morning and discovering her asleep with a reading light shining directly on her face. How could that possibly be restful? The medicine affects her sleep cycle, and the next morning brings a difficult wake up call.

Since the panic attack, we’ve added a new rule: lights out by 10 p.m. If she doesn’t have the discipline to get to bed before then, she can’t read in bed. It’s a boundary she seems content with.

Another concern we’ve had at our house – does ADHD meds make a kid a better or poorer performer on stage? It seems logical that a kid who’s naturally inclined to sit still and be quiet may not be the next star in the school play, and that’s okay. We all have our own gifts. Consequently medicine that helps a kid focus and be quiet may not be conducive for risk taking on stage.

A little compulsivity makes a great actor.

It’s possible that the medication itself played a role in Lesley’s panic attack, but it can’t be proven.

As I see it, here are my priorities:

1. Make sure my daughter eats and rests well and feels loved.

2. Simplify her life as much as I can so that she can meet the challenges of school and the school play.

3. Encourage her to be a bit impulsive and loud and willing to take risks on stage.

4. Go without or lessen the medicine until the play’s done.

On the weekend right after the attack, we took Lesley off the medicine completely. Her usual routine was to stop the medicine on one day of the entire week, not two. Although we didn’t feel we could afford to chuck the meds completely for the next couple weeks, we agreed that taking 18 mg instead of 36 mg was a reasonable solution. This decision wasn’t made without our doctor’s advice. During our last visit, he prescribed her medicine in 18 mg units because we had talked about her trying a lower dosage of her medicine. If Lesley has an intensely academic day and feels she needs 36 mg, she can take two 18 mg pills.

So far, the reduced dosage has worked. We’ve been running lines in the evenings and at lunchtime as the big performance inches closer. Homework has been manageable. She’s tired in the evenings and goes to bed at a reasonable time (just before 10 p.m.) Her appetite is more balanced.
On to the theatre!!

Here’s what I learned over the last couple weeks:

1. Be vigilant observing your child. Watch for signs of stress or over-involvement – interrupted sleep patterns or changes in appetite for example.
2. Keep talking about how the medicine makes him feel and how it helps his focus. The dosage that has worked for the past six months may not suit your growing child.

3. Keep lines of communication open with teachers and counselors and anyone else at your child’s school who’s a potential advocate. They may observe what you haven’t and vice versa.

4. Keep talking to your doctor. Adjusting medication levels isn’t a decision you make in a vacuum. Make notes of your concerns so that you don’t forget something important during your appointment.