How We Got Here

Our first weekend with a partially-medicated child is in the books. I say “partially” because we are in the ramping-up phase and she’s only taking about a quarter of the recommended dose of Focalin at the moment.

Initial thoughts: possible placebo effect in place. We explained to Jillian what this pill is and what it’s for and there was a slight uptick in good behavior on Friday and over the weekend. Could go either way. Overall, it was situation normal up in here.

One of the strangest parenting phenomena I’ve encountered is that we have to teach children things we don’t really remember learning. Walking, talking, potty training… all that stuff needs to be learned but very few of us remember learning it so we make up the teaching of it as we go along. And then there are things like hair-brushing. How to take a pill. Things like that.

After two days of it, Jillian learned how to swallow her pill on the first try. We’ll see what happens next week when she has to take two. And then the week after that when she has to take three. The first time, though – I was kind of stumped. How to explain something so basic in a way that a maniac child can understand? That was fun, and we got through it with laughing and water dribbling everywhere, because some people feel the need to ask questions with a mouth full of water.

More than a few people have reached out to me, asking “how did you get to this place?”

When Jillian started Pre-K, I was filled with trepidation. She and I had spent nearly every minute of her first 4.5 years together, and I was anxious about sending her off to somewhere else for a couple of hours every day. I was in tune with her needs and quirks and her Special Snowflake-ness and I was concerned that someone else wouldn’t guard that as fiercely as I would. I worried about My Precious Baby and hoped she’d be all right, make friends, learn stuff, and start taking steps into her own world, and out of mine.

The initial reports were positive: “Jillian is a cheerful and sunny presence!”

Then they got weird: “Jillian tends to… scream when she’s excited about something.”

And more: “Jillian cries easily, and is easily frustrated.”

“But she’s very smart!”

“Jillian cannot sit still in circle time.”

…and we were off to the races. At first, I figured “whatever, it’s Pre-K, they’re all maniacs at that age.” In the very back of my mind, however, the alarm bells were starting to ring.

One of the things I tell new mothers is “trust your instincts.” And mine were telling me that something wasn’t quite right.

I made tentative inquiries: “do you think Jillian is… normal?” Oh, she’s fine. She’s spirited! She’ll grow out of it.

But she didn’t. Kindergarten was more of the same. Every now and then, Jillian would have a particularly bad day and be escorted to pickup by her teacher who would give me a rueful smile and say “Jillian had a bad day.”

Oh, but she’s fine! This is all normal for this age! She’s clearly very smart, maybe a little emotional, but she’ll grow out of it!

First grade: more of the same again, some more. “Jillian is great, but…”


That’s when we started asking: “Is she bored? Academically, she is doing very well. Could it be that she simply needs more stimulation in that area?”

Wellllll sure. Maybe. So we worked with her teacher to come up with some ideas of what Jillian could do when she found herself with some free time. At first, she seemed really gung-ho about it, but could never quite gain the focus needed to actually DO anything about it. Sigh.

Second grade was when the shit really started to hit the fan. We’d been fortunate up to then with Jillian’s teachers, in that they were all lovely people who understood Jill fairly well and occasionally went out of their way to make sure she was pointed in the right direction. I’m sure they were frustrated with her at times (just like we were), but they never showed her anything but caring and concern and a willingness to help us figure out what makes that kid tick.

So we believed them when they said she’s normal, she’s fine, she’ll grow out of it.

But second grade… ugh. Second grade sucked.

I get it – teachers have a lot of kids and a lot of curriculum to get through. They don’t have the time to be re-directing and re-focusing my child 54 times an hour. Jillian spent a good chunk of time in the principal’s office during 2nd grade, because her teachers simply could not deal with her. Or would not. The tone of the emails that came home was not great, let’s say, and that’s when we decided to have her evaluated for the first time.

First stop: pediatrician. “Nope, she seems fine to us. No, we don’t feel that she needs to be screened for ADHD. After all, she’s a girl, her academic grades are stellar, she’s just high-strung and emotional, that’s all!”


Next stop: hippie-dippie social worker. “I don’t think Jillian has ADHD. She’s very high energy and maybe you could try some mindfulness work with her. I suggest yoga and maybe meditation.”


And we tried. We tried everything they suggested, from dietary changes to basic yoga poses to deep breaths to “finding a happy place” to a rubber band on the arm to having a note taped to her desk that says “please work quietly” to rewards to punishments to flat-out PAYING her to behave herself. Nothing worked. Nothing motivated this kid to change her behavior in any way and and and and and and AND!!

Second grade finally came to a close. Everyone was upset and exhausted and frustrated and that’s when I started looking at private school alternatives for her, since it was clear to me that public school just wasn’t working for her. But the options available to us were either not quite right or they were perfect, but astronomically expensive.

We sent Jillian to theater camp that summer. She seemed interested, and it seemed like it would be chaotic enough that her particular brand of zany would be more tolerated. That went VERY well. She had a few bumps along the way, but having the freedom to be as prolifically creative as she can be was a good experience for her. She’s doing that camp again this year, and I hope the experience is as good the second time around.

Third grade started with a lot of promise. I spoke with her teachers on Meet The Teacher day and let them know that Jillian was a bit hard to handle. I know teachers talk and so I’m confident they were already familiar with her, but I wanted to let them know that I knew what she’s like and that we were doing what we could to try to rein her in.


“Jillian is great, but…”
“Please help us work with her on getting her to settle down.”

By November, I had reached the end of my rope. I met with the pediatrician AGAIN and they told me AGAIN that they didn’t see any cause for concern. O RLY?? I got a second opinion, same thing. Saw another social worker therapist, same thing.

But remember those instincts? Alllll my alarm bells were going full clang, and so I finally got a referral from a therapist I know and trust. She referred us to the Child Development Center at Hunterdon Medical. We scheduled a full evaluation on this kid, from head to toe, inside and out. The initial paperwork for this thing was 21 pages long, but we got it all filled out and submitted.

And lo, the heavens parted, and the angels did sing.

We spent 5 hours there. They did a physical assessment first, then the doctor sat with us while Jillian did some drawings (also part of the assessment). He walked us through Jillian’s issues and challenges, step by step. He talked with us about some of our frustrations and some of the walls we’d been bashing our heads against. Then we went to the waiting room and he talked with Jillian.

They also gave her a battery of tests, from the ADHD screeners to the IQ tests, and she scored on the extreme edge of them all. Extremely high IQ (higher than mine, even, and I am a goddamned genius). Extreme ADHD.


Well then.

Now we’re getting somewhere. We left that meeting armed with information and resources that were designed to help us get a handle on our tiny maniac and try to get her to… well, if not get in step with the rest of the kids, at least to march in the same band, if you know what I mean.

We decided that medication would be a “last-resort” thing, since we honestly did want to exhaust all other avenues before going that far. We wanted to know that we tried everything we could. So we did! We met with the school and discussed the possibility of getting a 504 plan in place. We didn’t think she needed to go quite so far as to have an IEP, but a 504 definitely seemed like a good idea. A two-hour meeting was held and we left there feeling hopeful that they would at least try to work WITH Jillian and not against her.

Turns out, her ADHD isn’t quite severe enough for the school to put a formal plan in place (which I think is odd, since her doctor was all “whoa, look at this shit” when looking at her screener results), but they would help her with some basic accommodations, such as a gel seat (for fidgeting) and some extra time for tests (due to focus issues).

All that in place and… no change in behavior. These accommodations weren’t hurting anyone, but they certainly didn’t seem to be making any difference whatsoever. So, after about 5 months of this, we decided on medication.

And that’s how we got here. So far, so good, and I hope that a month from now, when Jillian is on the full dose, we can report a night-and-day situation with regards to our tiny maniac. I am a teeeeny bit concerned that medicating her will dim the disco ball that is my child, but I also think that light is strong enough to shine through whatever we put on her.

Time will tell.

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