This is the first installment of a two part series about our journey from ADHD medication to 100% natural remedies for ADHD.You’ll find a link to Part Two at the end of this post.
(Warning, this is me getting really vulnerable!)
Everyone’s ADHD story is different.
And yet, there are many, many common threads between all of us parents dealing with challenging children.
Sometimes we are in denial.
Sometimes we feel shame. Bewilderment. Sadness. Helplessness. A longing for things to be different. We go thru selfish thoughts of “Why is this happening to me?”
Yet, we can also feel a deep, deep love for our child. An appreciation for their strengths. Pride for their talents.
This range of emotions may be what we have most in common.
I started my blog to create an honest and inspiring place to help you on your journey with your amazing and sometimes, “challenging” children. I focus on the natural remedies for ADHD that have worked for us.
I’ve never shared our story before of how my kids came to be diagnosed with ADHD, our trials with meds, and our eventual path with natural remedies for ADHD.
My kids are older now(they’ll turn 12 and 14 this summer) and I do want to preserve some of their anonymity, so while I am leaving out some of the details, I am leaving in all the things we have tried, what worked and what did not.
You’ll see our road has been long and varied. I’ve tried loads of things-from 6 or 7 kinds of meds to a host of natural supplements and ADHD remedies.
Maybe I can save you some time and you can learn from both my mistakes and my wins.
I know many of you will find some of your own story in this. I hope it brings you comfort in knowing you are not alone.
Our ADHD Story
My oldest son was not diagnosed with ADHD until 4th grade. But in retrospect, I had seen many of the typical signs.
As a baby and toddler he was active and busy. I often felt exhausted because he needed a lot of attention. But toddlers do that, you know.
I had no comparison, he was my first.
He was also kind and loving and chatty. He started talking full sentences at 18 months and would talk with anyone, anywhere — it’s still one of his gifts.
He played well in groups, never had tantrums and was an overall cheerful toddler.
My oldest was(and still is) extremely sensitive and hated loud noises — the garbage truck or street sweeper would send him running to the back of the house.
He attended a small, play-based preschool and loved it.
I began to notice how screens affected him.
We kept all screens off until he turned 2. And then I noticed that he and screens did not mix.
Rather than be a calming time, a tv show would ramp him up.
The 1/2 hour break I got while he watched a show was not worth what happened afterwards. So we limited screens. He rarely had iPad time and never was introduced to “educational” video games.
Looking back this was such good instinctual move on my part. I am so glad we made this decision. I truly believe that is one of the things that helped him the most and is some of the reason why he had such a late diagnosis.
Even now, at almost 12 and 14, my kids have no screen time during the school week(with the exception of schoolwork) and an hour or so on weekend days.
I read Simplicity Parenting.
I am still a huge fan of Kim John Payne, but it was his book, Simplicity Parenting that really shaped our early days. I see now just how beneficial it was to simplify things for both of my boys.
In retrospect, this is another pivotal move on my part when my son was young. I look back now and realize that it was because we kept things simple at home — no screens, lots of sleep, I did not overload our schedule — that neither of my sons exhibited many signs of ADHD early on.
Sleep and minimizing screens are two of the best natural treatments for ADHD.
The first signs something wasn’t right.
I started to notice a huge change in behavior in first grade…
My son was a very bright kid (still is!), but when he had to memorize math facts in first grade, he hit a wall. I could not understand why this was hard. (short term memory issues, perhaps?)
He got so anxious.
I could see the anxiety roll thru his body and exit out his tightened little fists.
For the first time in his life, he resisted, got angry at me.
He yelled. He clenched his teeth and growled a big angry growl.
I did what any semi-controlling, teacher/ mother would do, I pushed him more. Maybe he just needed more practice, I thought.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Things didn’t get better. My son’s outbursts became bigger and scarier to me. Luckily, they were only happening at home, but I still did not know how to handle them. Consequences and punishments did not work and only made things worse.
I enrolled my kids in a Montessori School.
I concluded that public school was not a match for my son and he transferred after first grade to a Montessori school along with his then Kindergarten-aged brother.
The school was great fit in many ways. The pressure of grades was not there, days included plenty of outdoor time, the curriculum was interest based. My values felt akin to the other parents.
We really loved it there.
But kids have to be self motivated enough to resist constant socializing – and he was not. He talked all day – which is not such a bad thing, but his work was suffering because of it.
I went back to work.
Going back to work full time was a big change. Work made me more stressed out. I yelled more. Our life seemed too busy.
I was not able to be as calm in the face of my son’s anxiety and outbursts. Mornings and evenings felt more rushed for sure. It was a vicious cycle – work more to pay for school – work makes me more stressed, kids get more stressed…..and so it continued…..
We noticed a change with certain food.
My son seemed to crave bread, cakes, and cookies. We noticed his behavior would worsen at parties or gatherings where he’d almost OD on this stuff.
He was insatiable.
We stopped eating gluten and went really low on sugar. It definitely helped, but not enough. His outbursts at home continued, just perhaps not as frequently.
The outbursts were varied.
They could happen during morning and evening transition times.
They might happen when he was asked to do something he didn’t like (chores).
They happened when I served food he hated.
Was I raising a spoiled brat? (I know now that it’s so much more than that, but at the time I felt like maybe I should be harsher, more militant. But that didn’t feel right to me, either.)
We started the testing process.
His teachers filled out the forms and we waited for the results.
I felt isolated, helpless, uninformed.
At home, my son could still be explosive. He’d get angry about seemingly small things. He would yell at us, throw things and sometimes seemed to be out of control.
I was grasping at straws most of the time.
Was this ADHD? Anxiety? Was I doing something wrong as a mother?
We sought the help of a therapist.
and then another, and another…
The first therapist answered his mobile phone during a session to talk sweet nothings to his wife. The second one moved away. The third one had a baby.
I called and left a message for a now, fourth therapist who sounded great. I must have sounded desperate. She called me back immediately and we set a time to meet.
She was a much better fit and we learned a lot from her. She taught me that my reaction as a parent can really steer the situation.
She introduced us to Ross Greene.
I read The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene.
Just as pivotal for me as Simplicity Parenting, Ross Greene’s, The Explosive Child teaches a collaborative way to solve problems with your child. Dr. Greene looks at behavior as communication, not as just good or bad. His process of collaborative problem solving is effective and teaches great communication skills to adults and children alike.
The process takes work, lots of work. But I started to explore the ideas in the book and they made So. Much. Sense.
I reached out to friends.
I am lucky to have a friend who walked a similar path as me, about 10 years before me. I only wish I had known what she was going thru at the time.
It can be hard to talk about this with people who don’t understand.
We got the diagnosis.
My friend pulled some strings and we got in quickly to see a “great psychiatrist” who interpreted the test results. Getting an appointment can take months, we got one in weeks.
Yep, my son “fell squarely into the category of ADHD” and many of the signs of anxiety.
We started on meds:
The first of a long line of drug trials.
I thought the doctors knew what was best.
I wanted the behaviors to go away.
I felt helpless and could not believe what was happening.
I asked myself so many questions and blamed myself at times. Maybe I just can’t handle an active child?
I researched and read like crazy.
There had to be a reason behind this.
I was adamant about finding a root cause.
Somewhere in here we started supplements.
I researched like crazy on the web and found out more about supplements.
I rubbed magnesium on my sons feet to make him sleep better.
In conjunction with the good food, things were a bit better. I felt like we were making some headway.
Back to public school.
We switched back to public school in 5th grade for many reasons.
I wanted my son to experience grades and thought maybe it would improve his work habits.
I also had to stop working five days a week. I was frazzled. The decision was easier now that I would not have to pay for private school. I was lucky enough to go part time at my Montessori School.
My stress level dipped much lower. I was less busy, more present with my kids.
We started seeing another therapist
Yep, that makes five.
I do feel like it takes time to land on a good one.
And sometimes you outgrow a therapist — like you use up everything they have for you and grow only as much as they are going to help you grow.
The fifth one was a therapist from the practice where my kids were tested. He came highly recommended, I thought a man might lend a different perspective.
He did. But not in a good way.
He proposed sticker charts and punishments. We focused solely on behavior. We stayed with him too long.
My son’s episodes would worsen when we tried his techniques. The therapist proposed forcing my son to sit on the sofa for thirty minutes when he lashed out. I can’t even believe we actually tried this, but we did. You can imagine how it went.
It’s so hard when your kids are going thru this — I questioned my instinct and thought other’s might know how to better handle my child.
But, soon I began to see that we were focusing on the behavior, rather than what was causing the behavior in the first place. I picked up The Explosive Child again and decided we had to find another therapist.
We were still trying figure out meds.
We switched meds several times, landing on Focalin. Focalin helped my son at school to a degree — he got amazing grades. But, he also displayed nervous behaviors, biting his lips, wringing his hands.
The explosions at home did not stop. He would be extremely aggressive with his brother, and also with us. Morning and nights were filled quite regularly with explosive episodes.
I started to question the meds.
Could these episodes be a side effect of the very drug we gave to try and help?
A second ADHD diagnosis.
It was around this time we started my younger son on the road to getting tested. He was not explosive at all — just the opposite. He’d be hard to rouse and get moving, he’d get “lost” in his room when I’d send him up to get his shoes — 15 minutes later he’d still be playing in his room, still no shoes.
My youngest struggled more at school. Hated to write — anything. Tears and drama would ensue when he had to write a journal entry, a thank you note, a grocery list.
Each Diagnosis is Different
My boys could not be more different in their presentations of ADHD. I was so surprised that my second son was diagnosed with ADHD and not ADD.
When I questioned the test administrator, she said it had to do with the fact that his teacher reported he got up out of his seat a lot. No one took into account that he had just transferred from a Montessori school where kids are not glued to a seat all day.
Having a second child go thru the process brought a lot to light.
The testing process is not seamless. Far from it.
There just are no definitive tests for ADHD.
As time went on, I had even more questions. What exactly is ADHD? Why are so many kids getting the diagnosis? How can it the symptoms be so different from kid to kid?
We really have to look at our kids as individuals.
As parents we have to investigate, ask questions, experiment and ask more questions. Research. Talk about this. Find people who are going thru the same thing. Ask more questions…you see the pattern?
You probably need a break by now! I’ll stop here for now…
Read Part Two now or Pin below for later.There really is much more to tell!
To recap the biggest things I learned:
- Keeping things simple, including minimal screens helped.
- Good food mattered, especially going g-free and low sugar.
- Supplements – fish oil and a good multi – worked, too.
- Taking care of my stress level and my reactions was big.
- The meds may do more harm than good.
- To be continued…
Part Two of Our ADHD Story is HERE….I recap how we finally got med-free and what else we are doing to help my son’s explosive outbursts. Sign up for my mailing list in the side bar to make sure you don’t miss anymore.
Want more about ADHD?
Read about my favorite breakfasts for ADHD here.
I have great ideas for packing lunches for ADHD kiddos
In the market for a good parenting read? I share three of my favorites here.