Tuesday, October 29, 2013

ADHD Medication Side Effect: No Appetite

My kiddo is doing SO well now. Seriously, it's like night and day from earlier this summer when he was acting out of control and unbelievably impulsive. The combo of a rigid schedule, a strict no gluten/no artificial dye/limited processed food diet with a daily vitamin + lots of exercise through the before-school program and last but not least, 10 mg of Metadata is the perfect recipe for a calm, happy little boy. And if my little boy is calm and happy, I'm calm and happy. It's win-win for everyone right?

The only issue we have is, that because of the medication, Christopher has lost his appetite. So getting him to eat anything at meals is a bit of a battle. He's such a skinny minny now!

I try to feed him things he enjoys so he eats a lot of fruits and vegetables. But I need to make sure he's going to get enough protein. He's just not all that interested in meat and won't eat turkey roll-ups or even cut up steak.

We were doing really well with peanut butter and apple slices but then one day the kiddo decided to use his clothes as a napkin (instead of an actual napkin) and I received a call at work. I was asked to come in with a change of clothes for my little man and also asked not to give him peanut butter anymore. I guess  there's a child in the class with a peanut allergy and they didn't want any issues.

So since then I've tried a few things, all with little luck. Today I sent him to school with sunflower butter and apple slices though and he said he liked it. So we may be okay again.

I also worked out a plan with the teacher that Christopher knows that he has to eat his lunch if he wants to watch Angry Birds videos on the Kindle in the evening. It worked and right now, Christopher is watching Angry Birds on the Kindle.

So sunflower butter + Kindle rewards: Another recipe for success? We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Children and the Mental Health Epidemic

Kids and Mental Health:

This week, there were two tragic stories in the news here in New England. A 24 year old Math teacher was killed by a 14 year old student in Danvers, MA and in another incident, a teenager from NH tried to kill his mother, after she withheld his ADHD medicine because she was concerned it was making him violent. (Sounds like she was right.)

I'm a member of an ADHD parents support group on Facebook and I have to say, after hearing stories like the above and seeing posts by other parents, I'm starting to be really afraid. I'm afraid that serious mental health issues in kids is on the rise yet resources and treatment options are not.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are currently 5.2 million children diagnosed with ADHD. This number has risen dramatically. The number of parent-reported cases of ADHD increased 22% from 2003-2007, the last year for which I could find data.

That means that there is an increase of 22% of kids requiring medical care, additional school resources  and overall special care from caregivers who have not been trained to deal with the symptoms that these kids exhibit. Meanwhile, budgets are tighter than ever so schools are doing more with less and healthcare costs as always continue to skyrocket. Medical providers are overwhelmed, which I know about all too well. It took us eight months to get an appointment at Children's Hospital and literally, all they did was give us a prescription and ask me to check in again in three months. Seriously, I waited eight months for that?

Also, the best treatments for a child are often not covered by health insurance providers so kids are given medication that doesn't best address their issues. This means there could be serious side effects that as I mentioned above, could have serious results. My son is covered by MassHealth so I'm lucky in that respect. But other parents in the Facebook support group have private insurance and say that their prescriptions cost $150 a month and that's for Ritalin. They can't even get Metadate (my son's medication) because their insurance doesn't cover it. 

Last but not least is the lack of funding for mental health research on children. Kids brains are still developing until they are seven years old. Then of course they continue to grow and hormonal fluctuations kick in which could also affect their mental health. The current diagnosis for ADHD consists of two different people checking off boxes on a checklist (the Vanderbilt Diagnostic Parent Rating Scale). If those two different people pretty much say the same thing, then a diagnosis of ADHD is given.

Unfortunately the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder mimic the symptoms of ADHD so it's difficult to determine which illness the child has without a trial and error approach. This means that the doctor prescribes a stimulant to the child and if it works, the kid has ADHD. If it doesn't work, the child probably has something else. As you can imagine, the number of ADHD mis-diagnoses is really high. This could have tragic results.

Earlier this week I was reading posts on the Facebook ADHD page and there was a mom out of her mind, not knowing what to do because her 10-year-old daughter was threatening to kill herself. No one else on this page knew what to do for her but I finally chimed in and told this complete stranger to call her daughter's doctor's after hours emergency number immediately. Thank God she listened and now her daughter has been hospitalized. Holy cow, the last thing I want to read on Facebook is that some woman's child has killed herself but what if I hadn't said anything? What would she have done? I can imagine she's overwhelmed but this could have had a very tragic ending if I, a total stranger, didn't tell her what to do. I don't want that kind of responsibility!

A coworker told me this week that her sister in law has a son that's bipolar and that she has had a knife to her throat on more than one occasion because bipolar kids can be violent, thanks to medication and its terrible side effects. Another parent on the Facebook page wrote one day to say her son woke her and her husband up in the middle of the night, standing at the side of the bed with a knife hovering over her husband. WHAT THE HELL!

When kids are young, you are stronger than they are but what about when they get older and they become stronger than you? That's when you end up with the case of the woman from NH who was stabbed by her son. And that is when you end up with a case like Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT. Terrible, terrible.

I'm not kidding when I say I think our mental health epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better. Until we as a nation decide to spend more money on research and treatment of mental health disorders in children, we are going to have more news stories like the above. Considering I have a school age child, it pretty much scares the daylights out of me knowing so many of these tragedies are happening at school. 

So how do we make change? I really have no idea. I wish I did.

Work-Life Balance

As a single mom with a stressful job, right now I feel like all I do is work, work, work. And that needs to change. I need more balance in my life.

Christopher and I are out of the house every morning by 7:15. I drop him off at school then rush to the train station so I could get to work downtown by 8am. I generally start responding to emails via Blackberry while I'm on the train, so really I start working by 7:45 every day.

Work is so busy right now and I often work hard from the minute I walk in until the minute I leave at the end of the day, with only quick restroom breaks. I usually bring my lunch so lunchtime consists of me walking to the kitchen grab my homemade soup from the refrigerator so I can eat it at my desk while working.

I leave around 4:40, rush to the train, drive to Christopher's school to get him by 5:30. Then we're home and I need to walk the dog, make dinner, clean up, give Christopher a bath, read books and kiss my kiddo good night. Then I need to walk the dog, complete any outstanding tasks and then climb into bed usually by 9:30 for lights out by 10:00.

During a normal day, I am running from the minute I wake up at 5:45 until the minute I drop into bed at 9:30 and with lights out by 10, that means I have 30 minutes to myself a day. That's rough and that needs to change.

The weekends really aren't much better. I get to "sleep in" on Saturdays--until 7am--but then we're rushing to get to soccer by 8:30. I'm the assistant soccer coach so I try not to be late although, punctuality isn't always my strength. We have an hour and a half of soccer, then after that a small break, then it's 45 minutes of swim class in the early afternoon. After that, it's usually grocery shopping and other errands. Then I'm home, walking the dog, making dinner, playing with Christopher, books and then bed. For both of us.

I was invited to multiple Halloween parties last night but didn't go to either because I was so exhausted. I hoped a good night sleep would serve me well but my upstairs neighbor had a HUGE party that lasted until 3am and so sleep did not happen. Somehow Christopher slept through most of it but did finally wake up at 2:30. So today's going to be rough for both of us. Ugh.

I need more work-life balance. Something really needs to change and I've decided that I need to be more firm about leaving work on time. I had hoped that working all these hours would result in a promotion at work but that did not happen although to my manager's credit, I know she did take it all the way up to the Partner level but was unfortunately denied. I could probably get promoted 2014 but that's a whole year away. Meanwhile, I'm working crazy hours and have very little to show for it, except for a lot of exhaustion.

So here's my plan. I'd like to get this into writing because maybe I'll actually follow through on it and not allow myself to get caught up in the daily grind that wears me out.

  1. Show up at work at 8am and leave no later than 4:15
  2. Work from home at least twice a month. This will eliminate the 45-minute commute each way meaning I will have an extra 90 minutes per day to get personal stuff done. How nice it would be to be able to clean the house on occasion!
  3. Hire a cleaner who can come once a month. I'm tired of looking at counter tops and appliances that need a good scrubbing. Time to hire someone to do this for me
  4. Accept party invites. I need a personal life

I do have a babysitter coming this afternoon so I can go shopping with a girlfriend. So that's good. I do need to do stuff like this more often though and hopefully I can stick to this plan. It'll be too easy to slip back into old routines but I can't do that. I need to start looking out for me more.

Now it's time to make my kiddo some breakfast and take him on a morning adventure before the babysitter gets here at 1pm. Then it's off to shop, early dinner and cocktails. I'm excited for that!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Son's School Gets a Report Card and It's Not Great

My son's school

My son's school's "report card" was posted on the school website this past Friday and I just took a moment to review. I've been trying to decide where I want to live long term. Should we stay in this town or move to a more affluent area?

I've been leaning towards staying here because the kiddo seems to be doing so well in his Kindergarten class. He is working hard, learning a LOT and he actually enjoys it. My kid loves going to school every day. That's pretty awesome right?

Then I saw the school's report. And all I could think was...yikes.

The town I live in is a Title I school system. Title I means you have a higher than average number of low-income families and so the federal government allocates extra money to districts like ours to ensure these students meet the rigorous academic challenges set forth by the state. Basically they're saying, we want everyone to pass the MCAS, not just rich white kids. Sounds fair right? The only problem is, even with all this extra money, our school is doing poorly. I mean really really poorly.

I'm looking at how the numbers are sliced and diced and I'm not seeing any one sector that is excelling. For third grade math, these are the numbers for percentage of kids who have a B in Math:
Students with Disabilities: 0%
Low Income 26%
High Needs 28%
African American 18%
Hispanic/Latino 28%
White 40%
Male 23%
Female 50%

Considering my kiddo is male and in the high needs category, this is kind of scary to me. My child WILL excel at school!

In the school's defense, I do know they are working hard to bring their scores up so it's possible I need to just wait it out. I can honestly say my son comes home with a ton of completed school work each day and I know that the teachers are working these kids hard academically. My son can already read and write a little and he's only been in Kindergarten for six weeks.

I also know we have a new principal this year who's job it is to turn these numbers around. I met the mayor at a barbecue a few weeks ago and he told me that he is committed to bringing the school's report card up to acceptable levels.

I also know there are lots of opportunities for learning and to get involved with the school and I see the school's enthusiasm for teaching. Over the summer the Title I office held reading events and there was one held today as well. There are periodic breakfast seminars where speakers provide guidance on how to help your child excel academically. And I get lots of notes from the teacher, suggesting ways to encourage my child's learning outside of school. So they truly are trying. I get that they need the help of parents and I'm happy to do what I can to help my son excel. Christopher is going to go to college of course and I need to make sure that he gets the academic support he needs starting now to be able to get there.

So back to the original question at hand. Where do I decide to live long term? Do I stick it out in this town and assume that the school's grades will get better? My son loves his class, loves his teacher and is very happy here. That's all pretty huge. But is that just the Kindergarten teacher? Will he love it in third grade as well? I have no idea.

Meanwhile, if I move half a mile to the next town over, I will end up with one of the best school systems in the state. Crazy right?

So why not just move then? There are a number of considerations:
  1. My son loves his current school
  2. My son is doing really well in his current school.
  3. My son has been bounced around so many times already in his life. Do I really want to add on more change?
  4. I have all the services we need currently in place. If we move to a new town, we would be starting over again. New therapists, new mentors. Once again, that's a lot of change.
  5. We're embedded in the community. I am the assistant soccer coach for his youth team. Christopher has friends here. We're very settled. It would be very jarring to my son (and to myself even) to move away.

Buying a house is an expensive proposition and I don't want to make this decision lightly. But I don't want to wait too long either because prices are just going to go up again and I want to move into a place with more space and a yard before the kiddo gets too much bigger. Sigh. So much to think about.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Foster Kids and ADHD

I just read an article that cited a Canadian study that found kids who come from "unstable families" have a higher "stress thermostat" set in hyper-vigilant mode. This results in a heightened sense of fight or flight, sleep deprivation, wired nerves and ADHD, especially in young boys.

This is so 100% Christopher. His therapists have actually used the words hyper-vigilant when describing him to me. Poor kid had a very difficult life with his birth mother. He was forcibly yanked away from her by police in what must have been a terrifying episode involving lots of yelling, flashing lights, sirens and loaded weapons all in his little terrified 2 year old face. Then he was bounced from foster home to foster home to foster home, confused, alone, without any one single stable person in his life. This little kid believed no one would look out for him and he became hyper-vigilant to his surroundings because even at the age of two, he believed he had to look out for himself. Makes total sense to me.

This hyper-vigilance made it difficult for me to decide that he had to have ADHD. I thought if I gave him time along with a lot of stability, love and patience, that his impulsiveness would ebb away. And in some ways it did. A year ago, Christopher couldn't even stand in the bathroom to brush his teeth. I'd hand him his toothbrush, he'd grab it and run out of the room, with me behind him yelling to come back. This happened every single day.

I had to double lock every door of the house because Christopher used to run outside into the street if he felt like it. I also couldn't walk down the street with Christopher initially because he was so impulsive, he'd run away from me and into the street. Thank the Lord nothing ever happened to him. However, I did always tell his social worker what was going on because God forbid, something ever did happen to this child, I wanted to make sure she knew I wouldn't have been at fault. I really thought it was that serious.

Christopher fits into other risk factors as well:

  • He was born a month early. According to a Swedish study, children who were born prematurely run a higher risk of contracting ADHD. This is because their little brains are not yet developed enough to navigate the modern world and neuro pathways end up forming incorrectly. Preemies experience heightened neo-natal pain, separation from mom (due to incubators), lots of lights and beeping sounds and sometimes this is overwhelming for the underdeveloped little tyke.
  • Christopher was born into poverty. His father was an illegal alien who was deported from the country when he was just a baby. His mother was poor and probably did not feed him nutritionally balanced meals. (Since Christopher exhibits food hoarding symptoms at times, it's pretty obvious neglect meant little to no food during important growth times). Poor people tend to feed their kids more processed foods and fewer fish and veggies. All this can affect the development of a child's brain
  • Christopher was born to a mentally ill mother. His birth mother, although never tested, suffered from some form of mental illness; probably something of the bi-polar variety. Mental illness is unfortunately often hereditary so it makes perfect sense that Christopher would suffer some sort of illness that could be found in the DSM-IV.
So fast forward to today and I am not at all shocked that all this instability, poverty and history of mental illness has resulted in an ADHD diagnosis in Christopher. Frankly, we're lucky that it's not worse than it is. Christopher's illness responds very well to both medication and diet and for that I am thankful. He is smart, a successful student, an outstanding athlete and he has many friends. He even told me he has a girlfriend in his Kindergarten class. Considering the background this kid comes from he's doing phenomenally well.

If you're interested in learning more about the causes of ADHD, feel free to click here and here.

Thank Goodness for Angry Birds!

After living with me for two years, Christopher finally asked to sleep in his own bed for the first time. This is huge! He used to be so afraid of sleeping by himself -- he was afraid of monsters in the closet, the dark and the smoke alarm scares him too. He used to be afraid of thunderstorms but he actually got over that in the last year. So cross one fear off the list, thank you very much. But the fear of the dark, monsters and the smoke alarm persisted.

That's a symptom of PTSD by the way; irrational fears like the smoke detector and loud thunderstorms. His therapist tells me that I don't know what happened when he was in foster care; that he probably felt scared when there was a thunderstorm and didn't have anyone there to comfort him. He feels safe and protected in my house so no more fear of thunderstorms or smoke alarms. Yay!

I used to battle with him to sleep in his own bed because I thought it was important that he sleep on his own. I'd put him to bed and he'd jump out four or five times and run around the house. Sometimes he'd be up until 11pm and I'd wonder how he was going to function the next day. I wondered about myself too actually. I was very tired a good chunk of the time.

After the Marathon bombing, I gave up on fighting with him at bedtime because I just didn't have it in me anymore to battle with him. I decided it was doing more harm than good to make him sleep in his own room and maybe he just needed his mama near him in order to feel safe. I stopped the hard nosed stance and changed to a much softer approach.

I've been telling him that if he sleeps in his own bed overnight, that he would get to play Angry Birds on the Kindle in the morning. He loves Angry Birds. And he loves the Kindle. So every morning he would get out of my bed and ask to play Angry Birds on the Kindle and I would say no. This was a reward for when he slept in his own room. He'd cry but I held firm. Last night, he finally worked up the courage to sleep in his own room by himself and I held up my end of the bargain: he is playing Angry Birds on the Kindle right now. Win-win all around!

I never thought I would say this but...thank goodness for Angry Birds!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I Need to Find a Way to Put 25 Hours into Every Day

There literally aren't enough hours in a day for me to get everything I need to get done. The To Do list continues to grow but the day does not. Where will the time come from to get everything done???

First I was up at 2am giving my dog Benadryl because he has some bizarre allergy that's causing him to scratch like crazy. Yes, I know he needs to go to the vet so we can figure out what it is he is suddenly allergic to...but i just need to find the time.

On Saturday, I was nuking some cauliflower so I could make a cauliflower pizza bake and poof, my microwave suddenly died mid-cycle. The lights were still on, the timer timed down but the cooker wasn't cooking. Annoying! I googled the issue and turns out I have a very specific part that needs to be replaced. It only costs $2 but I'm not sure I'll be able to figure out how to do this to replace it. I'll give it a try I guess. Nothing to lose but patience.

A little light's been on in my car the last week and I know that means the tire pressure is low on one of my tires. I've had to have three of my four tires replaced so I know this all too well. On Sunday I couldn't stand it anymore and went out in the pouring rain to figure out which tire it was that was low. It's the front right tire. I put some air in it at the gas station and hopefully that holds us over for a while.

Last night the Kindle Fire stopped taking a charge. Christopher of course cried because he couldn't watch his Angry Birds YouTube videos. Thankfully I got the extended warranty and it should still be covered so I'll get a replacement for free. But now just need to find the time to return it to cowboom.com.

The TV in the living room requires you to bang on the top or else the picture doesn't appear. I feel a little bit like Fonzie when I bang the set top and it magically works again though. (Hopefully you're old enough to get that joke!) Anyway, yes I need to replace the TV.

Two weeks ago the cable box on top of the TV in my bedroom died. It would just cycle through these random letters of the alphabet and never actually give me a TV show. I called Verizon and they UPS'd me a new set top box which arrived just a few days later. It works great and now all I need to do is find the time to make it to UPS to send the old one back.

I've got two birthdays coming up this week for super awesome people and so that means I need to find the time to do some gift shopping. I think I'll actually take a lunch break tomorrow and check out some of the shops in Downtown Crossing and hopefully find something the birthday folks will like.

In the midst of all these To Do items, I also need to work full time, raise my child, walk and feed the dog, feed myself and also occasionally sleep (except at 2am when I'm giving the dog Benadryl apparently).

And yes, I need to write in my blog too. So now I can say one item is at least checked off the To Do list for the day.

Just another day in the life of a single working mom.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Was Medication for ADHD The Right Choice?

It has been one week since my son's ADHD was diagnosed and I started him on medication. Truthfully, he received the diagnosis week ago Thursday but I was so flat out swamped with work and then sick with an awful bout of food poisoning, that I couldn't get the prescription filled until Sunday. Not enough hours in the day sometimes.

Anyway, I really struggled with the choice to medicate Christopher because the idea of medication that comes with side effects can be a bit scary. But ultimately I have to say it was the best decision I could have made. Christopher is doing amazingly on the medication and it has really improved his life.

The kiddo is on 10 mg of Metadate CD, which as I understand is the "hot, new" ADHD medication. Hey check us out. We're trendy. Who knew? Anyway, I'm happy with it because it really works and I don't see any side effects other than Christopher's appetite is a bit wonky. Some days I have trouble getting him to eat anything but then it all seems to catch up with him and he's starving a few days later and eats everything in sight. I need him to have all his nutrients though so I do worry on those low hunger days. I guess it's just important to ensure there's always foods that he likes in the house so that I can get him to eat something when I need him to eat something those days.

Other than that, Christopher has done GREAT on this medication. He tells me he loves the way he feels too. He said he could complete his school work more easily and that he didn't have any "do-over" work on the table (which I guess is what you get if the first time you do some work, it's not perfect and you need to do it over. Yeah they are working these 5 year olds pretty hard).

I've also noticed that he's just calmer and his teachers tell me they see it as well. He's not hitting or slamming into kids in the after-school program anymore, which is huge since that was a problem for us.

The big test was soccer yesterday. Christopher has a way of getting a bit intense on the soccer field and next thing you know, every little kid around him has been knocked down as he fights to get the ball into the goal, like he is a one-man soccer team. Last week they actually stopped the game five minutes early because of the intensity and the coaches were afraid someone was going to get hurt.

This week, Christopher was a soccer playing superstar. He has all the speed and all the agility of a fierce competitor but none of the aggression. He's competitive and was matching up pretty well against two kids on the other team that were amazing players (as far as five year olds go) as well. Christopher went after the ball, not the kids and that was awesome to watch. Christopher scored FIVE goals yesterday and I credit his medication for giving him the ability to focus and control himself so that his skills were able to shine instead of his behaviors.

I know it's a personal decision that every parent needs to make based on the needs of their child but in our case, I'm really confident we made the right choice. Please note that I also still think diet plays a HUGE role and so Christopher is still gluten free and artificial dye free. Plus I've started him on a multi-vitamin that has Omega-3 in it since I hear that helps with ADHD behaviors. I figure that I can keep him on a lower dosage of medication if I also treat his disorder with diet as well. This way I can stave off any potential weird side effects that I read about and which make me nervous. So far so good though and I'm hoping for the best.

Shhh...Don't Tell Them It's Healthy

I'm a single mom and have no social life anymore. Since it was Sasturday night and I didn't have anything else better to do, I decided to break out a bottle of Pear wine that I bought at the Nashoba Valley Wineries a few weeks ago and bake some tasty foods to enjoy over the next few days. What I didn't tell my little kiddo was that I made the dishes extra healthy adding purreed vegetables, chock full of vitamins and minerals. He didn't know the difference. Chock one up for mom!

The first dish I made was a pepperoni pizza bake. Instead of using normal pie crust, I substituted a cauliflower puree that was ahhh-maazing. The pepperoni and cream that went into that recipe weren't all that healthy but the cauliflower was and hey it's Saturday night and we've got to live a little bit right?

The next dish I made was a gluten-free red velvet cake that had two pureed beets baked into the batter. Once again, the kiddo loved it and it was a lot healthier than the average slice of chocolate cake. I felt just a smidge less guilty feeding him the sugar if it came infused with healthy beets.

I think it's important to give my son lots of tasty options for meals and desserts, since he's not allowed to have so many of the things he used to eat because of the ADHD diet. He used to cry when I'd tell him, no you can't have something and I'd feel terrible. But now with all the research I've done on gluten free and dye-free diets, he really does eat quite well. All in all, there's really no reason to miss out on anything.

The only thing I haven't been able to replace is bread. Christopher does not like GF bread at all and just won't eat it. I don't sweat it though. Bread really isn't all that healthy for you anyway.

If you're interested in either of these recipes, feel free to check them out on Pinterest here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Happy Forever Family Anniversary!

Christopher and I ready to come home: Oct. 1, 2011
Today marks the two-year anniversary of Christopher coming to live with me. Happy anniversary little man! Mama loves you!

I remember that day like it was yesterday. My heart was pounding in my chest and I don't think I had slept in a week by that point. I was a single woman who was all the sudden getting a child. I was freaked out!

Christopher was such a sweet, brave little boy. I'll never forget watching him say goodbye to his foster mom after she snapped him safely into his car seat. He cried. She cried. I cried. My heart broke for this little boy who was losing someone he truly loved and who barely knew the person he would now call "mom". I knew that I would give him a great home but he didn't know that yet. I just wanted to hug him and tell him it would all be all right.

There have been a whole lot of ups and downs over the last two years and there have been more than a few times where I wondered if I could do this a minute longer. But I always made it through and here we are on the other side, so much of a stronger family for all our hard work.

I told Christopher that I would buy him a present from Amazon as an anniversary gift. He wants some new Angry Birds action figures, since the dog chewed up his old ones. So since he's asked me about 10 times to go online, I'll go do that now. Have a great night!