Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Dope Show

Sometimes it's hard for me to admit that my six year-old son has a psychiatrist. I go to a shrink once in a while. My wife does, too, but we're adults. We choose to.

Jack's psychiatrist is fantastic. We were having a particularly bad stretch at the beginning of 1st grade this year (well documented through these blogs), and needed to open the dialog about pharmaceuticals for the boy.

Jack was diagnosed a little after his 3rd birthday (Nov 2009). We instantly threw him into ABA home therapy, OT, Speech, and pre-school. Things were going well. He was improving, for the most part, every day. We had beat the system. We had beat the disorder. And, as everyone around assured us, "we were going to be fine".

And we had done it all without drugs.

Until things changed. Jack was becoming increasingly aggressive, rage-filled, and, to be frank, violent. He spent little time in the classroom, if any. He spent a lot of time in the principal's office. And, I spent a lot of time there, too. Not a one of us had a clue what to do.

I've always seen pharmaceuticals as an "easy way out". I didn't want to "dope" my kid. The images of McMurphy in the Cuckoo's nest asylum. The Thorazine clinics of sedated patients in our public health system. The hypermedicating craze of the mid 90s. The College kids abusing Adderall story I had seen on 60 Minutes. None of these were for me. They weren't Jack's future either. Most importantly, I didn't want to tell anyone about it. Selfishly, I'd be embarrassed to have my friends and family know I was medicating my child. They were all telling me "everything would be fine", and I didn't want to let them down. So, you can see my concerns, even my disdain, for pharmaceuticals.

But Jack's behavior and aggression were starting to give me few other options. If he couldn't control his aggression, he wouldn't be allowed to continue at school... too much a danger to himself and others.

So, I called my insurance company and got a referral to a pediatric psychiatrist. That's when something amazing, maybe even magical, happened. The second name they gave me was a friend of mine from High School. I didn't go to High School in Los Angeles, so this was pretty amazing. I had a friend that could help. And help she did.

Turns out, I had no idea how pharmaceuticals work for ASD (or ADHD, OCD, PDD-NOS) kids. All of the things I would be "ashamed" of weren't true. It was my own ignorance and judgement that were holding me back.

Jack started Ritalin. Jack has not been pulled from class in the last 8 days (counting today). Jack has not had any aggressive/violent episodes in the last 8 days. Jack has only said "fuck" once at school in the last 8 days (and he mumbled it quietly to himself).

More importantly, Jack has done all of his schoolwork. He has participated in classroom activities. He even will talk to a classmate once in a while.

I believe in the merits of ABA therapy. I believe in the merits of Occupational Therapy. I believe in the merits of pharmaceuticals. But I also believe (as many of my fellow professionals and parents do not) that these things are NOT mutually exclusive. They compliment each other beautifully.

This is my point. Drugs will not work for all of our kids, but don't make those decisions without learning what they are first. I got lucky. Perhaps it was fate that I found Jack's psychiatrist. She's brilliant, kind, empathetic, and professional. My son loves her (he calls her the "talking doctor" since she doesn't give shots), and we love her, too. Thank you for walking us through this.

I didn't want to medicate my son because I was worried what other people would think... and that's a terrible way to live your life.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I needed to read this today. My 6 year old son, who has been responding wonderfully to what we are doing, has had a change in the last month or so. He's pulling away at school, having more outbursts, the sonic meltdowns at home have returned and he's getting increasingly more aggressive toward his siblings, one of which is his 4 year old brother who thinks he's a superstar (and will emphatically defend him even while getting slapped in the head by Aiden).

    My husband and I have been contemplating the use of medication. I feel like you've felt; I didn't want to just dope up my kid to calm him down. But I think anxiety plays a huge factor in the change in my son's behavior and well, maybe a little something might be called for.

    After reading this, I feel a little better about exploring our pharmaceutical options. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for reading. It's not going to be the right decision for every kid (or parent). However, get a physician's (psychiatrist) opinion it first. You're going to get a lot of misinformation from blogs and facebook (including mine). Please keep in touch. I'd love to know how things work out.

  2. Thank you. We are starting on this path, too--we get an EKG tomorrow. This is exactly what I want to think, so I'm glad someone else is voicing the same thought!

  3. Thank you for reading. Check in again sometime, I'd love a follow-up.

  4. Yeah, I think...I's a decision that no parent or person takes lightly. I'm glad it's working for your son.