I gave my son a goodnight peck on the forehead, left his room and headed for the kitchen. Though I hated to admit it, I needed to follow up on his chores. Discouragement flowed over me anew as I paused in the doorway. Crumbs littered the counter, and a streak of jelly meandered from a gooey knife. Poking from a lower cupboard, a box of sandwich bags served as a doorstop. Tipped against the open cookie jar, a forgotten bag of chips reminded me that all meals were not created equal.
I sighed in frustration. Why would a boy who had mastered his ABCs by age 2 struggle at 14 to put together a couple of sack lunches?
Incidents like this had slowly transformed our home into a place of defeat. My husband and I constantly wrestled with our approach to parenting and besieged each other with questions. Were these occurrences our fault or due to Jason’s poor choices? Was this a case of “I won’t” or “I can’t”? We simply didn’t know, and our anger and annoyance were increasing.
Why did Jason persistently fail to help out around the house? Was he just plain lazy? How would he ever make it in life if he couldn’t manage a few chores and some homework? And why were none of our lectures, constant reminders, rewards and punishments bringing about lasting improvement? Maybe it was just a phase, but we also had certain expectations.
Then panic set in. Jason was failing his first semester of high school.
As it so often does, in our dark moment, light appeared. We discovered the answer that had long eluded us as we struggled to understand what was happening to our son. The underlying cause for Jason’s troubles, and ours, was a neurobiological condition called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
ADD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are believed to be caused by malfunctioning neurotransmitters in the brain. ADD and ADHD affect an estimated four percent to 12 percent of America’s schoolchildren—as many as 3.8 million. And while families may be reluctant to consider ADD as the reason for home and school problems during the teenage years, those who are willing to pursue a diagnosis and treatment may experience dramatic changes. We did.
Before Jason’s diagnosis, his chronic forgetfulness, lack of perseverance and self-enforced isolation were sucking the joy out of his final years at home. After discovering and treating his ADD, his self-confidence returned, his interest in college and career resurfaced and he smiled a lot more. We had missed that.
Undiagnosed until high school
Many children with ADD are tested and diagnosed in their early school years. In our case — largely because Jason had a laid-back personality, maintained straight A’s until he reached seventh grade and spent long hours in front of the computer — we were blinded to the possibility that he might have trouble staying focused on tasks.
Beginning in seventh grade, however, Jason’s academic performance deteriorated steadily, and by Jason’s freshman year in high school, my husband and I were no longer shocked to see D’s and F’s on Jason’s progress reports. Missing assignments, forgotten books and low test scores became the norm. Teacher conferences confirmed what we already knew: Jason was not performing anywhere near his potential.
At home, Jason never remembered his chores, rarely completed them according to our expectations and had adopted “don’t worry” as his standard response to every attempt on our part to discuss what was going on. We had a feeling his trite motto was thinly covering his own deep concern about the way things were progressing.
One day on the Internet, a story linking ADHD with giftedness caught my eye. Surprisingly, similarities exist between the behaviors identified with ADHD and those typical of bright, talented, creative children. While I knew Jason was not hyperactive, his early school performance had convinced me he was very bright. Eagerly I searched one Web site after another about attention deficit disorders. The more I read, the more I wondered if we were living with the symptoms of an attention problem. I even printed out one person’s testimony and showed it to Jason. He was so discouraged at that point he read it reluctantly. His half-hearted response, “Yeah, that’s pretty much how I feel,” became a glimmer of hope as we called our doctor.
Armed with recommendations from our physician and friends, we prayerfully chose a psychologist to test Jason. The evaluation included parent, teacher and counselor observations; intellectual, academic achievement and attention testing; and a review of Jason’s school records.
On the day we met with the psychologist to receive the diagnosis, both my husband and I were anxious but hopeful. Perhaps we were about to discover the key to helping our son. We were also torn. In a way, we hoped he wouldn’t have a disorder he’d be required to manage throughout life. But on the other hand, if he did have ADD, perhaps with treatment he would improve and regain what he had lost personally, academically and socially. When the psychologist confirmed Jason’s ADD, we were relieved.
Choosing to medicate
The decision whether to use medication to manage ADD can be difficult and can be chosen only case by case. Psychostimulant drugs, used because they enhance neurotransmitter function, are typically taken for years, and their long-term effects are unknown. Still, we chose to give medication a try.
Our physician recommended Adderall, which Jason takes before and after school, and although he’s had no problems with the drug, he is re-evaluated twice a year. The psychologist who tested him for ADD has been helping him with organizational and self-confidence issues associated with his being undiagnosed for so long.
His teachers are part of the solution as well. We chose to inform them of Jason’s ADD, soliciting their input regarding his in-class performance while on medication. Their e-mails reveal their enthusiasm for the changes they are observing and their willingness to help.
Since we know that some people show little or no improvement with medical therapy, we were thrilled when Jason’s response to Adderall was both immediate and positive. “It’s like putting on the right pair of glasses after having blurred vision for years,” he said after just two days on his medication. If he misses a dose, he says he feels fuzzy.
Relief and joy
Our lives are quite different from the norm before Jason’s diagnosis. His report cards contain all A’s and B’s. His chores are done thoroughly and willingly. He remembers to wear his dental retainers and take his lunch when he heads out the door. His teachers report no missing assignments, and his cooperative attitude is greatly appreciated by his brother, father and me, as well as those at school.
We are seeing exciting social changes as well. Jason’s more attentive persona seems to be facilitating new friendships with both guys and gals. He’s again attending youth group and learning to play golf. He’s decided to take a summer school math class in order to be eligible for computer programming. And, because his grades and attitudes demonstrate responsibility, we are gladly allowing him to get his driver’s license.
Discovering Jason’s ADD has enabled each of us to enjoy his teen years and anticipate great things ahead as God shows him, and us, the unique purposes for which Jason was created.
The lunches? I still check them sometimes. Old habits die hard, I guess. But now I do so with great anticipation. There they are — packed and waiting, side by side on the second shelf of the refrigerator. The kitchen? No more jelly streaks on the counter. The place looks like a home décor photo from a women’s magazine. Well, almost.
Copyright © 2001 Cynthia Schnereger. Used by permission. This article first appeared in the September, 2001 issue of Focus on the Family magazine.