Wednesday, September 5, 2012
My Eldest Child and his Ongoing Ritalin Saga
I'm going to make an exception in this case because it illustrates perfectly some of the issues and decisions which parents of special needs children face all the time.
My eldest son, aged almost 12, is in year six, his final year of primary school. He's been in "special needs" since kindergarten seven years ago and on ritalin almost as long.
Over the years we've had our share of school issues, both social and academic and it takes each new teacher nearly an entire year to understand him.
It was always our hope that one day, when he was old enough to "self-regulate", we could ditch the ritalin and I think that we all expected him to be off it by now.
There have been many times over the years when we've forgotten the ritalin (or run out). Usually in those cases we get a call from the school pleading for him to be medicated. The behavioural change really is that noticible. Of course, throughout most of this time, he's been off the Ritalin during the weekends - except when he really needs it, such as when he's at tutoring.
I've noticed big social differences without Ritalin on weekend scout camps. He's usually still a little medicated on Saturday but by Sunday he's entirely off the medication. He becomes disorganised, impulsive, defiant, outrageous and funny.
I noticed on one camp that the other kids had issues with his Jekyll and Hyde style personality differences and I took the unusual step of sitting a few of the smarter kids down and explaining why. Interestingly, this changed the attitudes of the whole pack towards him and he became much more accepted.
Recently, we ran out of Ritalin and he was off it for a couple of weeks. We finally managed to get more but at the parent-teacher interviews a week or so later, we were told that "he's better without it".
Apparently he's far more social and interactive when he's off Ritalin. That much I'd picked up from the camps. The teachers said that when he was on ritalin, he didn't interact much but when he was off it, he would be walking "arm in arm with girls".
They also told us that when he was on ritalin, it was a struggle to get him to do anything in terms of work and class participation but when he was off it, it was hard to get him to "shut up". They preferred the latter state.
It was all going really well and we were pretty much convinced until I asked about his academic performance. I was stunned by their reply; "well, he's not learning anything anyway".
Nevertheless, we decided to take him off ritalin - and so began a few weeks of calls from the headmistress of the school to report; fighting on the bus, flipping the bird at a teacher (and the list goes on). We got nothing negative from his main teachers who were very happy with his active participation,
Our weekend tutor however was not happy. Her focus is academic, not social and she's a critical part of my son's learning. We've often said that he learns more in an hour per week with her than he does in an entire week of school.
Not only was he extremely unsettled but there were tangible measures too. He took twice as long to read a regular (timed) passage and retained considerably less information about it.
It seems that there's no one winning formula but that we have to adjust the dosage independently for different activities. At this point, we're considering a much lower dosage for school (or none at all) and a "normal" dosage for tutoring. We've also asked that all playground and bus-duty teachers be informed that he won't be as "in control" of his impulses as usual.
It's tricky but I'm much more worried about next year when he will be at a new school and with a different teacher every hour. Are they going to be able to reach a consensus (medicated or unmedicated)?
I sincerely doubt it.