I am often asked about medication we use for our boys. I am always hesitant to answer as it can be a very hot button topic. Things that work for our family might be a disaster for another and vice versa. The general public is also quick to chime in when we try to have open dialogues (support groups, online groups etc) about our children and their medical needs.
So what I am going to do is write about the process of introducing medications for my boys without using specific pharmaceutical names. That is something best left between you and your doctor.
When Corbin was 4 we pleaded with his then Pediatrician to help us – was there a medication that could help calm him enough that he could participate in school? As it was he was spending most of his time either in time out or frantically moving from one centre to another, always crawling under desks and ruining other kids projects. Our Pediatrician wanted to send us to see a behavioural pediatrician but her wait-list was 6 to 9 months and that seemed an eternity. So he asked her for a consult over the phone. A few days after our visit to see him I got a phone call from the pharmacy asking me if I really wanted them to fill the request for an anti-psychotic. I was stunned and dismayed to think the first medication we would try for a 4 year old would be an anti-psychotic. I told them not to fill it, there must be a mistake.
So I took Corbin back in and begged for something less serious and we walked out with a fast acting stimulant medication. In hindsight I still feel we made the right call at 4 years old but wish we had revisited it when he was 6 and still struggling (as in clearing the classroom with his out of control behaviour). But back to the meds. Summer vacation had just started and I decided I would give him his first dose on a day that the in home worker (that we paid privately because Corbin didn’t “qualify” for any services) was with us. I suggested we go to the park and just before she arrived I gave him his first dose. We went to the park and got out of the car. Corbin walked, let me say it again, he WALKED toward the park and surveyed his surroundings and picked out a kid that had a book. He WALKED over to the boy and said “What’s that?” as he pointed to the book. He and the kid sat down, let me say it again, SAT DOWN at a park bench and looked carefully through the child’s book. Erica, our in home worker, just stared in amazement and gasped “What is going on?”
I laughed at her amazement and spilled the beans. Corbin was still impulsive at times that morning but nothing like his usual self. Our plan was to give him the medication in the morning for school and it would wear off late morning around the time I picked him up. That was our compromise because honestly I think we felt a little guilty giving him meds at 4 years old and hadn’t met anyone else who was going through the same thing. Add to that my job in early intervention and I think part of me felt I should have some magic wand to wave and make everything better.
The next school year started and Corbin struggled from the very beginning. But I knew from the reports we received that it was more about aggression and distraction and less about hyperactivity. At home we struggled immensely and we were feeling out of our depth. Corbin had been making odd movements and noises for quite some time and was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. No further assistance or intervention was offered from the local children’s treatment centre beyond the diagnosis. One night I was surfing the net looking for answers and stumbled upon Life’s a Twitch and the author, Dr. McKinlay actually headed up a clinic, The Leaky Brakes club at CPRI in London Ontario – and we were in the catchment area. I made it my mission to get a referral there.
We were able to get a referral to the Leaky Brakes Club and in the process of seeing Dr. McKinlay about Corbin’s Tourettes, OCD and ADHD we were referred to a Developmental Pediatrician. After a thorough assessment she recommended the use of the anti-psychotic, the same one recommended when he was 4. The summer between grade 2 and 3 I finally agreed to give him the anti-psychotic and grade 3 was, and still is, one of his best years. No longer was he aggressive towards others and he wasn’t explosive and clearing the room.
When he was in Grade 6 Corbin had what we can only think to call a break down. He became highly disturbed and could no longer attend a full day of school. We didn’t realize it at the time but his stimulant medication was no longer working – among other issues. The next couple of years took a lot out of our family but we persevered and turned once more to CPRI. He had a couple of treatment admissions (one was crisis for a month and the other was for 3 months). During that time it was determined that Corbin needed new ADHD meds and that he met the criteria for Bi-Polar NOS (Not Otherwise specified). This time we were ready to give him new meds. No one could continue to live like that. We put him on a very common Bi-Polar medication and within a couple of months saw great improvement. He remains on those meds today and has not had a relapse and is able to attend school and earn credits toward his highschool diploma.
During all of this we were also worried about our younger son Jeremy and his impulsivity. It really rang true for me when we went to Disneyland in 2009 and I lost count of how many times he ran off or almost fell in the water or some other perilous event. He also was struggling at school, even in the classroom of a very educated and talented senior kindergarten teacher. After a thorough assessment he received the ADHD diagnosis. We asked for him to be referred to the same Psychiatrist as Corbin. We agreed right away to a trial of medication that was not a stimulant. It seemed to have no affect. We went back and asked for something different and were given the stimulant Corbin had been on for years before it just suddenly stopped working. Jeremy did well on the med and remains on it today.
All in all each family has to do what is right for them. Don’t want to give your kids medication – don’t. No one is forcing you. But I think it is just as important for people to know it is okay to give tried and tested medications to children who are struggling so significantly. You are not a bad parent.