After months of arguing with my daughter to do her homework… After months of it taking us 3 hours to do 30 minutes worth… After months of slipping grades and reports from teachers mentioning Norah’s inability to focus in class… After months of what she couldn’t finish in school coming home… After months of alternating shifts working with her, both my wife and I working at her side until we were about to crack, and then tagging out… After months of trying to fix the problem on our own… we finally decided to take her to a doctor.
Norah was 8, and she’d always struggled with school, but it wasn’t until 3rd grade that it felt like reading, writing, math, and anything that required her to sit down and focus was almost painful for her. Homework piled up, week after week. I’d spend hours sitting next to her in her bedroom, tapping the school desk next to her dresser, Norah fidgeting in her chair, looking off into space, or doodling, or anything but the work on the page.
On the weekends, we’d try to catch up, but when it takes a child 10 minutes to sit down and focus on one simple division problem, 30 simple math problems can feel like an eternity. We tried regular breaks. We tried encouragement. We tried rewards. But the reality was, it got to the point where getting my daughter to finish the work she couldn’t finish at school was taking over our lives, and so eventually we found ourselves sitting across from our 50-something, brown-haired and exuberant pediatrician with a massive stack of questionnaires that had been filled out by us and Norah’s teachers.
Norah was in the room with us, but our other two children were at home with a sitter. Our doctor reviewed a few files, read something on the screen, and then said, “She’s showing all the signs of ADHD. I’m going to send you home with some material with tips and tricks to help Norah perform better in school. I’m also going to recommend an IEP.”
She asked more questions, offered some more information, and then she brought up medication. “I know that some parents don’t like the idea of ADHD medication, so I’m going to leave it up to you. But I will say that I’ve seen it work wonders in some children.”
Mel looked at me, her lips drawn to a tight line. She’d already made up her mind, and it was a flat, “No.”
I, on the other hand, was much more open to it. I’ve worked in education at the college level for almost a decade, and I’ve seen ADHD medication have a transformative impact on struggling students. But the thing is, it wasn’t my decision alone. Nor was it Mel’s. It was a decision we needed to make as parents, and we needed to make sure our daughter was comfortable with it too.
We talked about it on the ride home. We talked about our concerns. We looked up a bunch of things on the Internet. We researched side effects, and the pros and cons. As we did, I thought about my own childhood — and it was eye-opening, to say the least. Although I was never diagnosed with ADHD, I’m pretty sure I had it. But back then, in the 90s, they just labeled me as a problem child and put me in remedial classes. I barley graduated from high school. I left not knowing how to type and having never read a novel. I didn’t go to college until I was well into my 20s.
I explained this to Mel. “I don’t want that for Norah.”
We went back and forth for weeks. We got advice from teachers and from friends. We asked Norah what she thought, and naturally, she shrugged, giving us very little input.
Eventually, we allowed our family doctor to prescribe Ritalin to be taken only on school days. The week after she began the medication, I came home to Norah sitting down at our kitchen table, writing an outline for an essay on why she loves school. She didn’t look up when I came in. She just kept her head down, the pencil moving. Anyone who has a child struggling with ADHD will know how remarkable it was to see this side of my daughter. I’d never seen her focus like that.
“How long has she been working,” I asked.
“Probably 15 minutes,” Mel said. She might as well have said two hours. I’d never seen her focus on homework, by herself, for that long.
“Do you think it’s the medication?” I asked.
“It must be,” she said.
It’s been several months now, and between the medication and the IEP, Norah is on pace in her class. She doesn’t have straight A’s, but all her work is in and she’s passing all her subjects. Instead of spending hours each night and every weekend doing homework, we’re spending less than an hour each night. We are spending more time together as a family doing fun family things.
On Tuesdays, I work late running evening study tables at the university. One night, I got home around 9:30 and Norah was still up. She was sitting up flipping though a book in bed with a flashlight. I asked about her day, and she gave me a bright, gap-toothed smile and said, “I finished all my homework!” Although she’d been doing this for a while now, I got the feeling that she was, for the first time, not viewing homework as an insurmountable task, but rather something she could accomplish. As a father, I couldn’t help but feel a warm sense of satisfaction along with her.
I gave her a high five that worked its way into a warm hug.
“Nice, work, kiddo,” I said.
She giggled and hugged me a little tighter.
Everyone’s experiences concerning ADHD medication are different. This is ours. It’s working. And I’m incredibly grateful.