New treatment for son’s ADHD, new outlook for future

Posted on: March 4, 2009

It was almost three years ago my son Sage was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, which falls somewhere on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum.

Sage learning how to walk at 20 months.

Sage learning how to walk at 20 months.

Then 3 ½ years old, Sage had always shown signs of developmental delays. He didn’t roll over or sit up the same time as other infants did, he couldn’t feed himself on his first birthday as his daycare-mates easily used forks and spoons to devour the cake I made, he didn’t walk until he was 20 months old and only said a few words by his second birthday.

By the time he was 3, it was evident his behavior was different than his peers and his social skills were awkward.  After a series of tests at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, the doctors determined he had PDD-NOS. They said his case couldn’t be classified as Asperger’s because his speech was so delayed. This irritated me because what did they know about him or his speech after only a few hours?

Although I was in denial, I did agree to speech and occupational therapy. My husband, Jeff, has always been better equipped to handle Sage’s issues (he’ll be a great special education teacher once he complete his master’s degree this fall). It took quite a bit of persuasion from Jeff for me to agree to put Sage in special education preschool in 2007. In my mind, he was just a little behind and didn’t belong in that class.

But the individualized attention was good for him and now he is in kindergarten – on schedule. He is mainstreamed with several special education teachers working with him throughout the day. He is extremely intelligent – he has known his letters and numbers for some time now and can tell you the capital of any state. However, his inability to focus is detrimental to him and his classmates.

A couple of months ago we took him to our general practitioner for an evaluation. It is obvious to anyone that Sage has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. One of the most common treatments for ADHD is Ritalin, a stimulant. After three days and a minor increase in the dose, Sage became aggressive, hitting his head against the wall and taking swings at teachers and us. The Ritalin was stopped immediately.

Today, at the referral of our general practitioner, we took Sage to a child psychiatrist for further evaluation. Doctor appointments or any activity that requires waiting are always a challenge because of Sage’s hyperactivity. He is usually the loudest, most active child in the room and today was no different. I do get tired of the perceived dirty looks but I realize I’m probably more sensitive to it than I need to be.

Once in the doctor’s office (yes, there was a black leather couch), I was still tense about Sage bouncing off the walls and touching everything. He was in full throttle, which was good for observation. The doctor asked us questions and watched Sage play. At one point, Sage stopped what he was doing and realized we were talking about him. The look on his face nearly broke my heart.  He may be autistic, be he is very sensitive and empathetic.

Sage playing piano at Grandmas at Christmas 2008.

Sage playing piano at Grandma's at Christmas 2008.

The doctor concluded that yes, he does have PDD-NOS and is still not verbal enough to have Asperger’s. He also has ADHD like we suspected. But because he also has anxiety, she said, stimulants like Ritalin have an undesired affect on him. She suggested Strattera for his ADHD. She also suggested eventually putting him on Prozac, an anti-depressant. Again, my heart sank.  I have been diagnosed with clinical depression and have been on a form of Prozac for nearly 10 years. Did I do this to him? When I was pregnant, all I was hoping not to give him was my crazy curly hair. Now he has my anxiety?

We told her about Sage’s intelligence and his love for music, especially the piano. She could tell he is a funny, sweet young boy who, with continued therapy, has great potential.

With time he should develop more skills and learn to focus on pace with his peers. When I asked her about eventual independence, she said that wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. That was music to my ears.

11 Responses to "New treatment for son’s ADHD, new outlook for future"

Amazing, Angie. Your unconditional love for your son is inspirational. And I mean that.

Glad to hear such good news, and such a positive prognosis. And hey, maybe we could see him around here sometime? He really is a good-looking little dude …

Thanks, Richard. You and Tracy are pretty inspiring when it comes to parenting, too. If the treatment goes well, I will take him to more places. Right now, an office full of computers, phones and scanners would be, well, interesting!

One of my best friends was in this situation about 5 years ago. Her son is now 10, he is in a public school, in the Gifted program and doing well. He was diagnosed with PDD and ADHD. They tried a stimulant but he began having ticks (which is a side effect) so he had to be taken off. My heart goes out to you as you go along this journey, she had him in speech, occupational and one other type of therapy from 1 1/2 until a couple of years ago. She put him in a private school that catered to this type of diagnosis and he thrived. Last year he was in the same classroom as my daughter and at times he did a few odd things but he was liked, had friends and did well in school.
My daughter has been diagnosed with ADD and anxiety so we did not want to try the stimulants since they can make anxiety worse. She has been on Straterra for about a year and half and does well on it. I just thought I would pass this along. I know you are going through a tough time right now as you decide how to proceed. And I wanted to give you a story of a similar situation that has a great outcome! It sounds like you are headed in the right direction.

Thanks, Cammie. It’s comforting to hear we not the only ones going through this and the treatment has been successful.

I have a son fits Sage’s description to a tee.(except for the music) Ben loves to build!
Ben is on Adderall and Prozak. Seems to be working well, except for the occasional meltdown. When he does melt it tends to be in the evening after he has held it together all day.
I am confused as to why Asperger”s was not explored a little bit more. One of the signs of Asperger’s is delayed speech.

Does Sage have issues with peers? Kids are less forgiving when they do not understand.
I talk to Ben’s class every year. I give them time to get to know him first. I play a game that gets them into “Ben’s head” They get a small taste of what he goes through just to do a simple math problem. This makes them aware of how his brain has to work harder to filter out distractions. They are amazed with the things Ben can do. eg. We go on a trip once and Ben knows how to get there, the next time. Who needs a GPS? He gets to the end of WII games, never forgets a bonus and can recite just about every infomercial there is.
I also work early childhood education so I get a double dose. I love what I do and I love Ben just the way he is. If I were to change anything it would be to make more people aware and understanding to kids and adults who are different. If they would look in the mirror, I think they would find we all have a little A.D.D. in us.

Thanks for the comment, Jane. Sage has been with most of his classmates since they were toddlers in day care together. For the most part, they accept him as he is. He actually is quite sociable, but sometimes too much so with the constant talking and getting into other people’s space. A special education specialist talked to his class the beginning of the school year to explain his differences. I would change the meltdowns and the distractions, but otherwise I’ve always thought Sage is just perfect!

I am so glad Sage’s peers accept him. That is so awesome! Ben is very social too. When our kids meltm, we have to use the “so what rule” Is he hurting himself, others or breaking anything? If not “So What”
I do wish when these metl downs occure, people would not stare, judge me or my son but ask if there is anything they can do. The answer is most often “no” but is is nice to know they want to help.

Angie, I hope you get as much out of writing the column as we do reading it. The way you talk about Sage helps me to better understand.
In addition to being intelligent and adorable, Sage has the added advantage of having two loving parents who advocate for and support him every day.
When I was 14 I began tutoring my foster sister every morning during the summer to help keep her on track for the following school year. She had learning disabilities, including a short-term memory issue, and taking three months off during the summer would have put her even further behind. She drove me crazy at times, but watching her work so hard to learn, no matter how frustrated she got opened my eyes. I was unbelievably proud when she graduated from high school.

Thanks for the comment, Dot. Yes, writing about Sage and our journey with him is very therapeutic. To some in the public he may just seem like another spoiled, uncontrollable child. But he really isn’t. We’re hoping to channel his energy into more positive behavior for his benefit. We believe he has a very promising future with his charm, intelligence, sensitivity and love for music. And, oh yes, those good looks!

Your writing is an inspriation to other parents. Congratulations. Medication is not always the only answer Im glad you have chosen to stop use of Ritalin. The American Medical Association revealed nearly 2 years ago that “Ritalin has a more potent effect on the brain than cocaine” suggests that alternative methods of treatment can help

Thanks for the highly personal and meaningful post. Medication is just one option among many, and there are many, many successful people who could be said to have ADD. In fact, in my experience, many CEOs and other high level figures suffer from something very similar – or even have to learn how to be ADD! Modern society just has too much stimulus.

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