Saturday, January 1, 2011

Diagnosis is just the beginning

I suspect that for most parents, the diagnosis of ADHD is really more of a confirmation.  An external source validating what's been suspected for some time.

Mixed in with that validation is maybe even a little relief.  Finally, something to call it.  Finally, something can be done.

That something can be medication, or behavioral therapy, or a mix of both.  Or an alternative therapy.

However, that's not the end of the story, even though sometimes there is a desire to make that be the case.  But naming the beast does not tame it.  And with ADHD, neither medications, nor therapy, nor the alternatives cure the condition.

For me, the diagnosis set me up for an education process that I have only just begun.  I've already said that my new hobby is learning about ADHD.  Based on the number of blogs and message boards I've been on, this is a common mom reaction.

Not so much, it would seem, for dads.

Or at least Dylan's dad.

On more than one occasion, Randy has stared at his son in disbelief over an explosive reaction, a long drawn-out homework session, or an over-exuberant response that leads to some accident.  As the mom who is constantly learning about the myriad ways that ADHD presents, I, in turn, stare at Randy in disbelief.  How can you be truly surprised by Dylan's actions knowing that the neurons in his brain don't fire quite the way they should?

Such was the case last night.

New Year's Eve.  Together with Christmas and Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve is a date imbued with all manner of expectations.  Being parents changes those expectations, but it doesn't seem to diminish the feeling that something big is supposed to happen.

Of course, when you add in an easily distracted and very impulsive child along with disregard for his usual schedule, and you have a pretty good chance that something big will happen.  It just won't necessarily be the kind of excitement you had been counting on.

It's a shame, because our evening had been going along so well.  I made lasagna and some truly killer meatballs.  Randy bought a value pack of fireworks that we were detonating at regular intervals.  And we had started our traditional New Year's Eve game night.

But then there was the champagne.  Or rather, the champagne glasses.  The pair of them were a wedding gift.  Waterford Millennium Champagne Flutes.  Expensive and delicate.

Now, I don't like keeping good things locked up in a closet unused.  I don't get the point in that.  If you are going to own something, use it.  My grandmother died with a drawerful of brand new nightgowns she was saving for "someday."  I vowed never to live my life that way and I believe in using the china, wearing the good shoes, and not owning something that sits in a cupboard or drawer.

Despite that, the flutes were not everyday glassware.  I would've felt a little silly drinking my morning orange juice out of them on a Wednesday.  But New Year's Eve was definitely an appropriate and ideal time to use them.

You can probably see where this is going.  Naturally, with this being New Year's Eve, Dylan wanted to drink out of a fancy glass, too.  I had given him apple juice in an everyday wine glass and he was happy with that.  But, this being New Year's Eve, Randy decided that Dylan should have something just a little more special and he pulled out a plastic light-up martini glass I had gotten at some forgotten event.  But daddy didn't just give the light-up glass to Dylan.  He wanted to see the light show for himself and then couldn't figure out why one color didn't seem to work.

Daddy's action:  What's going on here?  Let me figure out why the green won't light up correctly.

Dylan's response:  Oooh!  Shiny, flashing lights!  And Daddy said it was for me!

So Dylan did what any impulsive kid would do, he climbed up onto the step stool to get a closer look and get his hands on the flashing cup.  And somehow the champagne flute got in the way.  And fell.  And broke.

I'll readily admit, I was upset at the sight of the beautiful glass, jagged and angry with cut shards.  I felt sad for losing something precious.  And, honestly, saw the correlation to our marriage, which has been dealing with it's own jagged and angry cuts.

I didn't want to yell or get mad at anyone.  So I took myself out of the situation.  From our spare room , I could hear Dylan run out of the kitchen to his bedroom crying that he didn't mean it.  Later, I heard him come out and say it again.  I couldn't hear Randy's response, but I heard Dylan run back into his room, screaming loudly.  His screams held it all - frustration, anger (at himself and at us), and sorrow. 

I wasn't ready to face either of them and figured, from the sound of it, Dylan needed some quiet time.  So I remained in the spare room.  But Randy was ready, apparently, to share his thoughts on the subject and he came to me.  He said he didn't care if Dylan stayed in his room and that Dylan would be paying to replace the glass.

Here's where I stared at him in disbelief.  Randy's anger was entirely out of proportion for what happened.  And it instantly called up the mama bear in me.  I told him he should've been more aware of what was going on instead of obsessing about the light in the cup.  (Perhaps his own undiagnosed ADHD saying, Oooh, shiny, me play with.) Randy stormed out; I stayed and fumed.

When I had calmed down the mama bear in me, I realized that I was not helping the situation at all.  So, I finally emerged from my bear cave and apologized.  Randy said he was sorry, too, but....that Dylan was always doing things like this.  He said it in amazement, like, where does this come from?

Diagnosis is just the beginning.

As I have on other occasions, I realized that Randy still has a disconnect between ADHD and the way that Dylan acts and reacts.  That he doesn't see how getting the diagnosis of ADHD is just the first step in a long journey for both Dylan and us.  Dylan needs to learn how to respond, how to control his impulsiveness, and how to describe his feelings without yelling.  We need to learn how to teach him those things and how to help avoid catastrophe. 

I think I do this all the time, almost without being aware of it.  If I'm anywhere near glassware - a coffee mug, a glass of water, a wine glass - I'm on the alert.  If Dylan gets within three feet of me, I instantly begin advising him to watch out for the glass.  Or I physically move it further away.  It's constant damage avoidance.

Am I preventing him from learning just how to control his body and his impulses?  I don't think so, at least not at this stage.  It will be a while, I think, before Dylan has the maturity and also the body control to keep this kind of thing from happening.  To me, he's like a big golden retriever, full of excitement and enthusiasm and not quite sure how that flailing yellow bush at the end of his body is connected to what's behind his nose.  To Dylan's credit, he will mature and will get more comfortable in his body...eventually.  But unlike the golden retriever, he has angry mood swings that go along with it, and he needs to learn to control those at the same time.

Dylan is blessed in a way.  After I went to him and told him I wasn't mad, he got over it almost immediately.  I wish I could say the same for Randy.  He didn't really calm down until this morning, long after the once-fun evening was over.

I keep hoping that these situations will open his eyes.   That the light will dawn and he'll realize that our son is different and that he will always be a little different.  I fervently hope Dylan will grow and learn and become more controlled, less distracted, and less impulsive.  But we're talking gradations, not a complete change.  There's always going to be a bit of a golden retriever in him.  He's not a German shepherd, or even a Great Dane, whom I understand are wonderful apartment dogs who have a good understanding of their body and the space it takes up.

And who doesn't love a golden retriever?

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