My Kids Have Behavioral & Learning Challenges, And I Felt Totally Unprepared

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
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When I became pregnant with my first child at 28 years old, 14 years ago, I was blissfully ignorant as to what the future had in store for me. I pored over books and blogs and websites trying to figure out what I was to expect when my baby was born. By the time my son arrived, I could have written a book about nursing or colic or cradle cap. I had read so much that I was sure that I was going to be able to handle anything that came my way. And for the first couple of years, I did fine. Things progressed just like I thought that they would.

When we went to the pediatrician, he hit milestones appropriately. His height, weight and head circumference were all normal and he could feed himself when he was supposed to be able to. I didn’t worry about anything. He talked early, which was fun as a mom to have a sweet baby to chat and laugh with. I didn’t realize then that this was the first indicator that he wasn’t the average baby that I thought that I had.

Fast forward two years and I had a second son. He too was cruising along with no concerns about his development. Between the two of them, there wasn’t even a food allergy. Life seemed perfect. But my oldest son was starting to stand out from the crowd. By the time he was a toddler and entering preschool, he could do a lot of things that I didn’t realize were advanced for his age. He was a smart kid, his verbal skills were incredible and he was an early reader. But it wasn’t just academic successes, he was different. And I couldn’t find anything in my books that even came close to describing him.

If I needed info on childhood eczema or how to determine if your child might need glasses, it was all there. But where was he hidden in all of those books? Where did they talk about a child who was displaying giftedness as a preschooler? How was I supposed to deal with this? Were there other moms out there? I needed someone to talk to who wasn’t so close to the situation. I needed to hear from someone who didn’t have a vested interest or who didn’t love him. I couldn’t find that info online.

As my oldest son reached grade school age, he was advanced. But he did fine in the classroom and got along well with his peers. Everything was great. And then, the ADHD tendencies started to show. I wasn’t ready for that. That wasn’t in the books. No one said that this could happen. They told me he should be reading by the end of kindergarten, but I wasn’t warned that he would pop a stability ball with a pencil because he was bored out of his mind and couldn’t pay attention. I never read anything about getting a call from school asking for a meeting because he may need some intervention. I panicked. Why was this happening? What had I done wrong? Could it have been prevented? Where was this mentioned in my reading? It wasn’t.

Not only do the books not tell you about getting a call from school that your child isn’t like the other kids, they give you no insight into whether or not you should medicate for ADHD and other behavioral disorders. There should be a chapter entitled, “Welcome To The World Of Medication, Where You Will Be Judged No Matter What Decision You Make.” If I had seen that, it certainly would have gotten my attention. Instead, I walked into a pediatrician’s office positively clueless about what to do for my child. And I was heartbroken. I felt alone and confused and I didn’t know where to turn.

We decided to medicate. And not that it was anyone’s business, because it absofuckinglutely isn’t, but I got all kinds of opinions. I was told that it would stunt his growth. People said that he would be a zombie. They warned that he would become addicted and could never function normally. So on top of having a child who was struggling every day just to survive in the classroom, I was loaded with mom guilt. No said that was going to happen.


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And just when I thought that we were finally settling into our new normal, my second son started to struggle with paying attention. WTF? What was I doing wrong as a mom? I fed them well, we monitored screen time, they played sports and got regular exercise. I was drunk and smoked cigarettes the night before I found out that I was pregnant with both of them. Was that it? I Googled it. Nothing. I went back to the doctor and laid it all out. This was different, though. His symptoms weren’t the same, so neither was the treatment. I didn’t know that was an option. I felt like every day something new happened, and I was feeling extremely overwhelmed.

While all of this was going on, I also had a toddler at home and I became pregnant with my fourth child. Where was all of the expert advice about having two kids with behavioral and learning troubles while raising a toddler, being pregnant and working full time? Where do they tell you about handling mommy burnout? Somebody needed to direct me to a TED Talk about feeling like the shittiest mother on the planet.

I was thankful during those infant months to have a place to turn if I had a question. I knew that if I needed to read about thrush or sleep training, my books would help me. But the older my children got, the less I was able to find in my reference books. I felt so unprepared for children who were different. And I felt disappointed and ashamed. I thought that because my kids were challenged that it somehow made me a bad parent. I felt like I was failing.

But I wasn’t, and I’m not. I am just a regular mom trying to make it through day by day. There are millions of moms just like me living this life. I have found in my 13 years of parenting that every family is different, and we all have our own stuff. No one is perfect. And it isn’t in the books because life takes you in so many directions that it would be impossible to find it all in one place. I can honestly say though, that as an older mom who has been through it, I share it to help others.

When I started my parenting journey, information wasn’t as widely available as it is now. Parents today have such amazing resources — this one included. This forum not only gives me the opportunity to tell my stories and to hopefully help other parents, it is also a place where I turn to learn. I have read so many stories and felt a profound connection to the author. Just when I feel that I am all alone, an article comes along that I feel in my soul. And I am incredibly grateful for it.

As a mom who has been there for chronic ear infections, ADHD, behavioral disorders, night terrors and so much more, my best piece of advice is to never be afraid to tell your story or live your truth. I promise, there are other parents out there who have felt your joys and your pain. The books won’t tell you, but there is no one-size-fits-all parenting experience. We are all different. And that, oddly enough, is what makes us normal.

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