Her son was diagnosed with ADHD/NOS at age five. She was determined not to use medication for personal reasons and tried hard to tame those life-disrupting ADHD behaviors, such as lack of focus, impulse, anger, irrational blowouts, lack of school interest, and social difficulties. She offered him opportunities to develop his body physically and mentally with enrichment classes, sports, nature explorations, herbal concoctions, vitamins, probiotics, therapy, nutrient-dense foods, plenty of sleep, together time, social connections, and alternative therapies. However, all this effort was like playing a game of whack-a-mole—something would work for a while until it didn’t. In the span of two years, her son was also observed for Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Aspergers, which were eventually dropped. She spent a great deal of time trying to crack the code of her son’s ADHD, trying to find that one thing that would keep ADHD from disrupting his life too much so he could grow up and blossom into his full potential. The offer for medication was always on the table, offered by the behavioral therapist as the possible “missing piece”. However, mom wasn’t done figuring it out. She didn’t accept that ADHD was just about brain chemistry. There was more to it, she just didn’t know what it was, but she was sure there was more to it.
That mom was me, and guess what? I was right. There was more to it.
In the summer between first and second grade something remarkable happened. At age 7, my son regressed. At first, I thought he was just being corky and a little “off ” because it was summertime—different routine and no school structure. However, his behavioral therapist was concerned enough to suggest that he should be evaluated by an occupational therapist.
That was a game changer.
During evaluation, he failed the primitive reflexes’ tests. Wait, what? What are primitive reflexes and why hasn’t he ever been tested? Ever. It was explained to me that there are several primitive reflexes that are developed in utero and their function is to help babies survive. Once babies grow and their brains mature, the higher brain functions kick in and those primitive reflexes slowly drop off. If babies keep those reflexes as they grow, they are called retained.
The retained primitive reflexes issue looked like the giant missing piece I was looking for. It affected his fine motor skills (directly affecting his ability to do school work—writing in particular), and was associated with his two other lesser known senses: proprioceptive and vestibular senses. In addition to that, he was diagnosed with Sensory Processing and Integration Disorder (SPD), which was never on my radar as super important but, come to find out, was also part of the story.
I was relieved and incredibly grateful he would get the help he needed with occupational therapy, and yet, feeling upset and baffled that it has taken SEVEN years for these developmental delays to be identified. He hadn’t missed any of the so-called “milestones”, so these issues were basically hidden in plain sight. Since then, at just about age eight, a new piece was identified by his occupational therapist—issues with visual perception in form constancy, visual closure and discrimination that caused him to struggle greatly in the first two years of elementary school, such as identifying shapes (letters, hello!). Addressing core issues in neurodevelopment early has an incredible positive effect directly affecting a child’s self-esteem. While it’s upsetting to me that it has taken so many years of detective work to uncover all this, it’s even more upsetting that there are many more kids that are never evaluated, feel stupid for not keeping up, and fall further and further behind academically.
Now, I have no doubt my kid is ADHDer in addition to having SPD. At face value, ADHD may be all you see and all the negatives associated with it. However, the story beneath the ADHD surface matters and no medication in the world would cause him to develop his motor skills faster, or allow his visual perception to hurry up and catch up with other kids his age. So my gut feeling that his ADHD wasn’t just about brain chemistry was correct all along. Maybe someday he will need medication and I’m open to that, but my plan to continually help my son develop his whole body has been working well so far. He even had his first 20-second piano recital this past week—a kid that six months ago struggled to coordinate what finger of what hand pressed what piano key. He writes beautifully in second grade. He struggles less with buttoned pants and shirts. He is fearless about conquering the skateboard. He’s become more physically independent in many ways. He works hard in the classroom.
He is blossoming and I’m teary eyed.
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I'm a single mom, graphic designer, crunchy mama, trekkie geek, life warrior. It's embarrassing how excited I get about food. I'm an expert in barefoot Lego fire walk.
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