Until two days ago, I didn’t even know this was a real word, much less that I was experiencing it daily. Impulsivity is how they describe the symptom of struggling with impulse control. It’s almost a disconnect between the part of the brain that tells you to do something and the part of the brain that tells you the consequences of doing it. You speak before you consider how it will affect others. You jump before considering if 20 feet is too high to fall. It is one of the many symptoms of ADHD and how it came on my radar.
Tuck has struggled since he was small with various small things. Things you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t around him consistently. He struggled with speech delay. At two he still hadn’t made much sound, besides grunting and screaming to get his point across, much less said any words. He had never said “mama” or “no”, which is pretty unusual. We began speech therapy and during that, the therapist talked to us about a possible motor planning deficit. Motor planning is how your brain tells your body to perform normal, everyday functions. Like picking up things, walking, running, talking, climbing. Things two-year-olds do a lot, but ours really didn’t. While other toddlers started pulling up and trying to walk, he never did. Tuck had never been a climber. He never tried to get out of his bed, which was odd because he didn’t sleep much and was very active. There were a lot of little things that we noticed and found odd, but never really grouped together until we talked to her. She recognized it immediately. She explained to us that it wasn’t that he wouldn’t be able to do things, he would do everything, it would just take him longer to master than other kids. He didn’t make the effort to try it new things because he couldn’t work out the details of how to make it happen. There was just a disconnect we needed to be aware of. It makes him seem uncoordinated when he tries something new, but after a few times he is up to speed. If you don’t know there is a problem, you would never notice it. Although not debilitating, it is something we have to remember, because it’s impulse to try to rush him or get frustrated when he can’t do something you feel is a simple task.
As he got older, it was obvious to us something was going on with his self control. It was like he didn’t care what you said or did or what the consequences might be, if he wanted to do something, come hell or high water, he was doing it. Punishment never had much effect. He doesn’t care what you threaten to do. He is in this moment and he isn’t worried about what happens next. Since he’s an only child, we assumed he was just spoiled and cracked down on him trying to make him understand there are rules and he was going to follow them. If you want to know the definition of frustration and despair, that’s it. But we really aren’t around other kids his age, so we couldn’t decide if this was something specific to him or just “boys being boys” his age, as people loved to tell us every time we voiced our concerns. One of the hardest parts of this particular journey is that people either deny there is a problem or tell you he’s just being a “boy/kid”. I never have figured out if they’re trying to reassure us or disregarding our intuition as his parents, but it’s hard to hear either way when you know there’s something more there. It makes you feel crazy and incompetent as a parent, which you already feel because you can’t get control of your one kid while other people juggle three.
Last year he started Pre-K. We knew this was our opportunity to get an unbiased opinion from someone who knew the “norm” for kids his age. His teacher was great. She was very structured and he thrived in that environment. At the first parent teacher conference we finally broke down our concerns for her. While she had noticed some of the things we talked about, nothing major like we were experiencing at home. At home he was having epic meltdowns. EPIC. Full fledged, our of control, couldn’t calm himself down, fits. It was overwhelming for all three of us. It was obvious he couldn’t control the episodes once they started, but we couldn’t figure out how to avoid them either. He wasn’t having them at school at that point, which immediately made us question whether he was just manipulating us. Anything you read on behavior in kids will tell you that they are more comfortable at home and so they act out there. Was that why he wasn’t having them at school? We had no clue. Pile on more frustration for all of us. While at some point he did start having more problems at school, we still couldn’t pinpoint what was going on or how to help him.
This year he started kindergarten. We were still having a lot of problems with his behavior at home. When you see your kid three hours a day and at least two of those are spent fighting for control and end with one or two of us crying, it is miserable. Family time is not happy and never carefree. You almost want to avoid it as much as possible, which adds even more guilt to this equation. You just don’t enjoy life in general. You can’t figure out if he is really this difficult compared to other kids or if you really suck at parenting. You don’t go places and do things like other families, because it makes everyone involved miserable. Tuck because he can’t do whatever crosses his mind and he is constantly in trouble, and us because nothing is enjoyable while constantly on high alert and arguing with a miniature terrorist. Along the way well-meaning souls told us we should get out more and he would learn to behave better in public. You just have to go, they say. You want to ask if they’re volunteering as tribute (that’s a movie reference, people – Google it). Because that crap is easier said than lived. Believe me.
About halfway through the year, his teacher talked to us about having him evaluated for ADHD. She had been having quite a few behavior issues at school, but didn’t feel like he could control most of them. She was concerned about first grade and wanted to give us a head start on evaluating him in case he needed to work on medication over the summer. She said he had no problem doing the work and was very intelligent, but compared to his peers and her previous students, he was having trouble staying on task and sitting still for an entire activity. That wasn’t huge in kindergarten, but first grade was going to be hard on him. He talked all the time and out of turn. He was aggressive with his classmates at times. He’s seen the principal A LOT this year. My brother has ADHD, so I was familiar with it on some level, but it wasn’t like what I experienced growing up with my brother. At that point I didn’t realize that every ADHD diagnosis is different.
So we scheduled a visit with his doctor. Each of us (my husband, myself and his teacher) filled out a three page questionnaire and sent it in before we met with him. Then we met with him for about an hour. I was nervous. I was terrified we’d get another, “I don’t see it” or “He’s just a normal little boy”. I love his doctor because he’s a no nonsense guy and doesn’t sugarcoat things. I knew he would tell us what he thought. And Tuck loves him, which is a blessing. When he doesn’t love doctors, it is a nightmare. Ask me how I know some time. Anyway, he asked all kinds of questions, both to us and to Tuck, while constantly being interrupted by Tuck, who was his normal talkative, busy self. He gave the nurse and the doctor a wealth of information on dinosaurs in that hour. After thirty minutes, he pointed out how often Tuck had interrupted us, which was pretty much an all-the-time thing for us. He told us that it wasn’t just Tuck being rude, he literally couldn’t control his impulse to tell us something and couldn’t make himself wait. Huh. That made sense. Then he remarked on how intelligent he was and how well he pronounced all the information on dinosaurs. He can says some words even I struggle with as an adult. He’s been that way since he started talking. He has a large vocabulary and uses words you don’t hear that often from five-year-olds. The doctor said that the way a lot of kids with ADHD are able to cope is that they are highly intelligent. They learn to work around whatever is holding them back and succeed, but it is harder than it has to be. We talked with him about on our concerns and his thoughts. He told us that he was not an advocate for medicating children, but in Tuck’s case he thought he needed some support. I’m going to be honest with you, the thought of having to GET Tuck to take medicine stressed me more than the thought of him taking something. At this point, our life was out of control. We were all miserable and he was beginning to struggle in school. We had to do something different. But first the doctor wanted to talk to his teacher and see exactly what was going on at school. I’ll never forget his teacher telling me that she’d spoken to him and I was like “ok, great” as I walked off. She stopped me and said she had never had a doctor actually call – they always say they will, but they never do. She was a little shocked. Again, I love Tuck’s doctor. Anyway, after that he called and talked to Jamie, because I can only handle so much stress in one lifetime. We started medication the next weekend, much to the chagrin of everyone we know. The unsolicited advice was intense. Apparently they felt we had never really tried anything else and that we were looking for an easy out and a fix-all solution to our “problem”. Or on the flip side, that there was no problem at all. Again, come back when you’re living it every day. To say that medication has been an easy solution is a joke. Besides the fact that you have to get the medication down his throat, that first one made that kid so mean and angry I was ready to run away. Not to mention he refused to eat anything. He was already tall and thin from being a picky eater, which was one of his doctor’s concerns, but this was a new level. We could barely get Pediasure down him and he was supposed to eat with the medicine. So since he didn’t eat, it made him nauseated, which meant he vomited it back up pretty often. Especially if you had to drive somewhere. You know, like school. We were more stressed and he was noticeably losing weight. It. Was. Hell. After two horrible weeks trying to see if he would adjust, we switched to a second medication. Not only has he been happier, he’s eating more than ever. I still don’t think we are at a good level, but it’s a step in the right direction.
In the meantime, I’ve been trying to do some research to see what we’re dealing with and how we can help him. That’s how I came upon my word of the week. Once I started reading about impulsivity, it all started clicking into place. The things he says and does to us, not caring that it will make us upset or earn him punishment. When your small child tells you he’s going to hit you in the face and then is shocked that you get mad, it’s weird. Then there is the nonstop, and I mean nonstop, talking. I don’t mean he talks and goes away and comes back to talk some more. I mean he talks from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep. He talks to us and if we won’t listen, he talks to himself or the dogs. When you ask him to please stop talking for a few minutes he says “Why does everyone keep saying that?!” That’s how much he talks. Jamie and I once drove six hours from the beach with no radio and very minimal conversation. To say the talking is overwhelming and stressful for us is a grand understatement. Then there’s the interrupting conversations, phone calls, TV shows, and any other thing he can disrupt. To the point Jamie and I couldn’t discuss what to do about Tuck because Tuck kept interrupting us. At first you think he just has to be the center of attention, and to a point he does, but it’s more than that. He cannot make himself wait. Doing things that make us ask “Why did you do that?!” at least 10 times a day is the norm around here. He never knows, by the way. And he’s not joking or trying to get out of trouble. He does not know. All of those are related to impulse control.
It probably sounds weird to you to say that every time we learn of a new “disability”, we are relieved. But we are. It means that we may actually have a clue what we are doing as parents after all. It means we have a problem we can address, as opposed to knowing there’s something going on and having no idea what to do about it. The unknown will absolutely drive you insane.
I say all of this because I’m struggling right now. I know suck at saying this in person. I never seem to get it all out in a way people understand. I am much better putting it all down in words. This is stressful as hell for all of us and it’s something no one really knows is going on. But mainly I’m currently struggling to keep my mouth shut. When you have a kid with a problem that isn’t physical, people don’t get it. They see an only-child and assume his behavior is because he’s spoiled and undisciplined. They don’t see the hours spent trying to fit him into the mold of a “normal” kid. They don’t see the tears of frustration from everyone involved. They don’t see that he really can’t control it, but we are doing all we can to help him. They don’t see the tears because I worry that he will never quite fit in with his peers. That he will always struggle to make and keep friends, because he can’t control what he says to them and doesn’t understand how his words affect people. They don’t see how their comments and snide remarks make you want to slap them. Yeah, cause that’s my reaction. I’m not going to cry, I’m going defend him and you will be the one crying. I’m not one of those nice non-confrontational mamas. I’m going to aggressively defend my kid against everyone, be it family, friend or random person. Maybe I AM a mama bear…
And most importantly, they don’t understand that he sees the world differently and what they think is weird and off-putting is what makes him unique and world changing. But that’s why he has us and why I’m done trying to keep the peace at the cost of my child feeling like he’s wrong and they’re right about him. I’m done keeping my mouth shut and feeling like a failure in private for comments said by a person about things they don’t understand or want to understand. I’m just done. ADHD is considered a disability, whether either of us really understand that or not. Like with any disability, I am his advocate and I am fierce about defending his rights and feelings. I have struggled with that role. He does a lot of things I don’t condone or understand. I can see how someone would form a snap judgment. I know why kids will think he’s weird. He has a vivid imagination and sometimes the line between real and imaginary is blurred for him. However, as an adult, once you know the circumstances, and a lot of these people do, you need to adjust your thinking and how you interact with my little man. Use a little compassion or keep your words to yourself. We are critical enough of ourselves already. What we need is a little support and encouragement.
I have said since the day he made his entrance into this world that if any baby was meant to be born, it was Tuck. The odds were against him long before conception and yet he prevailed. (You can read about that in my post, Pregnancy Done The Hard Way). God has a plan for this specific child and I can only believe that the way he experiences the world around him will contribute to that plan. It makes him uniquely qualified to do something and I can’t wait to see what it is.