Proof in the Pudding

I had Theo’s parent-teacher conference this past week. I wasn’t worried, since his teacher hasn’t voiced any concerns. And Theo generally gets along well with nearly everyone, so usually these meetings are fun and nothing to worry about. This year was no exception—except it kind of was exceptional in the form of some validation.

Readers of this blog know we decided to let Theo try ADHD medication a few months ago. It was a decision we wrestled with for well over a year, since his diagnosis—and even before his diagnosis, since we were pretty darn sure he had ADHD long before they ever diagnosed it.

Since he started medication, everyone has been happier in our house. Theo is much calmer and has said repeatedly that he likes the medication—in not so many words, he has described himself as more able to cope. (He doesn’t know the actual meaning of the word “cope,” I don’t think…but his description of how he feels describes coping to a tee.) Chris and I are much happier because Theo’s relaxed demeanor and ability to regulate his emotions has meant we’re no longer living in an explosive war zone. And Sam is happier because the yelling in the house has plummeted.

All of that is anecdotal evidence. But at Theo’s parent-teacher conference, I got some hard data that I think supports the fact that the medication is helping him. His teacher pulled out his math scores from an assessment they took at the beginning of the year vs. one taken two weeks ago. “You can see he made a small gain in math skills. This is pretty typical for kids in this grade. He struggles somewhat with subtraction, but in general he’s on course and his skills are growing.” Then she pulled out his reading scores.

“The jump he made here in reading is pretty incredible,” she said. “We don’t generally see a jump like this. It’s quite unusual. His vocabulary was already very strong at the beginning of the year, and he was on target for reading scores. But now his comprehension has jumped significantly, and he’s reading well above his grade level in terms of comprehension. I’m not sure what accounts for this. I know he likes to read. Does he read a lot at home?”

Well…sort of. I wouldn’t call him a bookworm, but he does enjoy reading well enough, and he’ll often read books on long car rides. And I don’t have to fight him to do his 30 minutes of reading a night. He doesn’t generally volunteer to do extra, but he doesn’t mind doing the 30 minutes. So he likes reading well enough, but I wouldn’t say he has suddenly developed some overriding passion for it.

What I would say is that in general, his focus is drastically improved in all areas. When we finally put him on medication, his focus had diminished to nearly nothing. I’m not exaggerating when I say that for homework, it was often hard to get him to focus for more than a minute or two at a time. Now, on medication, he is able to sit down and do his homework without much trouble. If he needs a break, he takes a short break and then goes back and finishes it. He doesn’t love homework (and he particularly hates math), but I don’t expect him to. In my opinion, homework is an undesirable part of life in public school (and probably private, I would assume). If it were up to me, they wouldn’t have it. (I just think seven hours a day of school is enough for a child.) But it’s not up to me, given that my kids go to public school, so we just say, “Okay, whatever. It is what it is; we’ll do it and move along.” I mean, life is full of things that we do because we have to—not particularly because we want to. That’s pretty much how I view homework.

But I digress. The point is, even though Theo doesn’t particularly like homework, he is able to focus and do it. (And then move on to much more fun pursuits!) And clearly, he is retaining more of what he’s reading than he ever was before. The only thing I can really attribute that to is his increased ability to focus.

It makes me happy. Not because I care what his reading scores are, but because an ability to understand what you read sets you up well for lifelong learning, which is what I hope for him. So if medication helps him with that…well, then, I’m all for it.

The rest of the conference went wall. Theo’s teacher repeatedly said he’s a “very active participant in his own learning”—in fact, she said she would’ve given him an “excellent” in that if the scoring on report cards allowed for it. Math is a little hard for him, but he does well in language arts, social studies, science, and music. He gets along well with his classmates, and his one area to work on is not talking out of turn. His teacher said, “You know, he just has so much to contribute—and he’s always on topic when he does, and it’s interesting information…but sometimes we need to move along quickly through something.” Ha! Sounds like Theo. He is a font of random knowledge that he likes to share.

Sounds like fourth grade is overall going very well, and I’m happy for that. As I told his teacher, I don’t particularly care about test scores—what I do care about is that he enjoys learning. If he continues to enjoy learning, he will always want to learn, which I think is really important. So I’m relieved and happy that we are going through yet another year where he enjoys learning and looks forward to doing it! And thank heavens, it seems medication makes it a little easier for him to do so.

I probably sound a bit like an medication evangelist, and I don’t mean to. I realize the dangers in over-medicating, over-prescribing, and over-diagnosing. But I also recognize the stigma of medication, and I have seen (and know firsthand) how parents can beat themselves up when they make that decision. So if it helps any parent struggling with this decision, I just like to share that I do think there are some kids who truly do need medication—we tried everything before resorting to it, and the gains we found from everything else were very minimal. In Theo’s case, it seems medication was what was needed to help him. I don’t know if that will always be true—maybe someday, as he continues to grow and mature, he’ll find himself able to tame his racing, jumping brain on his own, without assistance from medication. Or maybe he won’t. Whatever will be will be. And it’ll all be okay, as long as he’s happy and content. Which, currently, he is. Which makes for a very happy Christmas season for us all…..

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