By Julie Saumsiegle
When Ali was in preschool all I heard from her teachers was that she had the most creative mind and was very artistic. Ali could paint and draw and stayed focused forever. What a gift this child has. As she progressed into elementary school the story started to change. Your daughter has a hard time focusing and paying attention. Now of course I took into consideration there was less play time and more learning time so that made sense to me. I knew my daughter would much rather paint, draw or play than study number or letters.
By the time were in the middle of first grade I was told by some teaches that my daughter was not living up to her potential. I found that strange because I knew Ali could focus on what was important to her. Maybe it was the teaching situation. There was a test going on at the school at the time of sharing responsibility with two teachers. Surely…that had to be it. Many of the moms were talking about their frustration with the classroom situation, we all knew it was not working well. I let it go after all it was first grade.
The following year 2nd grade I was asked to come in for a conference. I met with the teacher who was extremely rigid. I immediately felt a disconnect. I could not understand how this woman was teaching second grade. When I say there no warm fuzzy’s permeating the room, it was an understatement. I had come to learn her history from some of the other moms and tried to write it off as Ali will just have to deal with different types of people. Maybe just maybe she did not like my adorable little girl that everyone else seemed to cherish. But why?
On our next conference she basically compared my daughter to her step daughter at the same age ….let’s just say there is no love lost between those two. I was annoyed at the comparison. I know that every single person is an individual. I was starting to doubt the school.
By third grade things changed and Ali had a wonderful teacher who loved her spirit and her passion in life. Never mentioned the word challenged . She was in a special group for reading for fluency but again normal and manageable. Ali being born in July put her as one of the youngest children in her class. Was it possible that Malcom Gladwell was right about red coating ? Would it be better to have her develop at a slower speed? I was beginning to wonder.
By the fourth grade everything changed again . Ali’s grades were starting to vacillate
I was called in by the school, the school psychologist and her primary teacher .
I was told my daughter had symptoms of ADHD . The school had done everything they could possible do. There were medications for this symptom. I could just have a copy of the report sent to her pediatrician. Are you kidding me…? That’s it. I started talking to all the mom’s I knew. I simply needed more information. I needed an education. I simply knew my daughter had the attention to focus on what she wanted to. What would these drugs do to my daughter? Would she be a zombie? So what if she did great in school but I lost her to a world of drugs! I do not want to live in a society that pops pills to fix things. I was determined to turn over every stone. This was important damn it. I was not just signing up for a quick fix to make everybody happy and go on with my life . No way. No one was labeling my child difficult, lazy, or ADHD without me investigating further. I had read the articles on Adderal and Focilin. The side effects scared the daylights out of me. I knew adults on the medication. I had read an article on the front page of the New York Times earlier in the spring about a valedictorian of a class overdosing on Adderal . It shook me to my very core. I had been on vacation in Keys and to this day I can still picture the young man in his cap and gown. I felt so sorry for kid’s parents vowing to myself if that were my kid, I would try everything else first. I believe drugs need to prescribed as a last resort.
This is where it starts to get interesting. One of the moms I spoke to told me about Dr. Michael Rizzo. I was like wait a minute Dr. Rizzo that was the school psychologist for Miami Dade? Yep same one, only now he is in private practice and works with kids diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s . What a coincidence. Maybe not …we had been friends over 25 years ago. I knew his family and his history. I immediately contacted him. I could not believe my luck. Feeling immediate relief and trust. Michael as I knew him was sensitive and kind. I remembered that in a flash. Certain things about people stick in your mind. I was hoping he had not changed. He did not.
He tested Ali and said she had potential and did not confirm or deny the diagnosis but wanted her to participate in some online learning and come to his summer camp. As Dr. Rizzo monitored her online tutoring of neurological skills and camp activity I paid more attention to her diet, sleep habits and everything else about her daily life. What could I do to help my little girl focus better? It occurred to me that every week once or twice Ali would not get a good night sleep. I mentioned this to her doctor. He suggested I send her to a pediatric neurologist. A little scary, but stay with me here.
We were starting to see progress at Ali ‘s camp and online activities, what could the neurologist possibly tell me. After a battery of tests and questions the doctor said he thought we needed to do a sleep study at the hospital. Sleep deprivation could cause symptoms similar to ADHD . Ok let’s do it.
Here is what the sleep study revealed. Out of 355 minutes of sleep, Ali had 62 minutes of REM sleep . During the REM sleep my baby had 17 occurrences of sleep apnea. Wow no wonder she had good days and bad days at school.
The solution: tonsils and adenoids needed to be taken out. The bottom line is I know my child better than anyone. Did I have guilt afterward for not addressing her sleep earlier? Of course. I would have had even more if I had put her on drugs for the wrong diagnosis. Don’t let anyone tell you your kid has something wrong with them that a pill can fix until you turn over every stone. The interesting thing about this is, why don’t schools and doctors ask about sleep patterns before they start suggesting drugs to “cure” or correct behavior? A valid question? The pediatric ENT told me “you have no idea have many kids are misdiagnosed.” I wanted to scream from the rooftops!
If this story keeps one child off those drugs, I will be vindicated in sharing my story.
By the way 5th grade was a blessing. No interventions, no talk about behavior and a steady stream of decent grades. Yes! I knew all along my daughter did not have ADHD.
Ali is wrapping up middle school in the 8th grade. She made the honor roll several times. She is healthy and happy. She sleeps well, sometimes too well. Teenagers.
The moral to the story with your own children is to trust your gut. Be curious. Sometimes schools do not have all the answers. They are not properly trained. We all live extremely busy lives and a quick fix sounds good. In life, we grownups, should know better and sometimes we do. I did not get angry and I learned a lot. My story has a happy ending. The bottom line no one is right 100% of the time.