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Category: Dyslexia

ADHD: To medicate or not to medicate?

To me, the idea of medicating children for ADHD seems completely unnatural, and wrong.

Two years ago after giving the holistic dietary approach to ADHD a good run, I made the anxiety provoking decision to  medicate my little boy.

I was extremely worried about the effects medication could have on my son’s body. I was worried that his brain may become too reliant on the medication. I was concerned about damage to internal organs, and his growth, in terms of his height.

Stunted growth is a side effect of medications used to contain ADHD symptoms (my child is now the second shortest child in his class).

”Morally, I felt the crunch from my conscience.”

No parent should feel that they absolutely have no other choice but to medicate their child in the hope of warding off out of control behaviour, to improve learning capability, and to increase overall productivity.

However, as parents of children with ADHD, we often do feel as though we must medicate our children. Our children’s behaviours are not socially acceptable.

Poor behaviour, and an incapacity to learn can have a devastating affect on a child’s mental health.

I believe there is a holistic approach to ADHD. I just didn’t find it. There are too many holistic approaches to supposedly help contain the symptoms of ADHD. Each child’s body reacts differently to each individual diet.

There is not a one size fits all approach when it comes to eliminating particular foods. And, there isn’t enough time to trial every single ADHD diet.

Children should be able to eat fun foods regardless of what of type of brain they have been designated.

So, on the flip side, my son can now concentrate for the first time in his life. He can actually enjoy learning, eat lollies without becoming out of control, and engage in interpersonal relationships without scaring his friends away.

My child has the upper hand. He is in control of his behaviour, not the other way around.

”My child likes himself.”

ADHD put my son in a position of vulnerability to feelings of intense shame and self-hatred. As a mother, I couldn’t watch my little boy go through that.

Shame is mentally incapacitating. It hinders people from achieving great things, and can lead to drug addiction.

However, with that being said, am I interfering in my son’s journey to learn how to manage his ADHD symptoms?

The pediatrician told me that by medicating my son, his brain will slow down. This will give my son the chance to think his choices through, instead of acting on his impulses.

Holistic approaches to ADHD will not give my son the same opportunities that medication does.

Elimination diets do not guarantee that your child will suddenly become a focused student with an excellent concentration span.

Elimination diets require months of product trials, vitamin trials, and fruit and vegetable trials to get the correct combination of nutrients required to improve behaviours.

You can completely eliminate colours, only to find that the tomato on your child’s sandwich created a major meltdown.

You can eliminate a wide combination of vegetables, food additives and soy products, only to find that your child reacts to something the diet says your child should be able to consume.

It is almost impossible to get the combinations correct. I know this, because I have tried it.

These diets do help a child’s behaviour. I have seen the progress made first hand. However, the progress is inconsistent, and the results are poor in comparison to the benefits of medication.

When you know your child’s self- esteem is in harms way, and you know that it could take at least a year to get your child’s ingredients right, medication is the easiest most fulfilling option.

When making the decision to ‘medicate, or not to medicate’ my son, I thought deeply about our single parent family as an entire unit. I had to do what was best for the four of us.

Having a child with special needs is a high – stress position to be in. This is not good for the family as a system. I cannot give 75% of what I have to give, to my son. It isn’t possible, its not o.k, and it simply isn’t fair to my girls.

Pros to medicating:

  • Moods are more easily managed
  • self soothing is now possible
  • Focus and concentration is amazing
  • Positive self-esteem and thoughts about self
  • More positive interpersonal interactions
  • Less troublesome behaviours
  • Happier with self

Cons to medicating:

  • My son has lost two kilograms
  • He has a poor appetite while on medication and often doesn’t feel hungry.
  • In the morning my son is starving
  • According to ‘Child Mind Institute’ there have been reports of stunted growth
  • Children can have problems falling asleep



The link between poor memory and dyslexia

The one issue I constantly come into contact with while parenting a child with learning difficulties, is the link between memory and dyslexia.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is a learning disability characterised by difficulty recognising words, decoding, and spelling.

At two years old, my son could not produce one single word of speech. Instead, he babbled!

It is expected that at 12 months old a baby will say ‘mum,’ dad,’ or both.  Other words will follow; and gradually the child will  move to two word, than three word sentences by age two.

There was a particular day in Spring just after my son celebrated his second birthday. While walking underneath the railway station, I noticed the recognisable voice of an acquaintance’s 18 month old little boy. He was talking endlessly about anything and everything as he and his parents walked up the path towards the railway station, and disappeared amongst the other voices.

This little boy’s brain could recognise words, process them, place them in the relevant areas of the brain, and remember them. My child’s brain couldn’t do this.

Dyslexia and working memory

Learning to read relies on working memory. A child needs to be able to match letters with the correct sounds, put the letters together to form a word, and remember it for future use.

The process of keeping multiple sounds and letters active is extremely difficult for most people with dyslexia, because they unfortunately have poor auditory working memory. This means they will find it increasingly difficult to hold all of the sound units in their brain. This makes it hard to read.

Poor memory recall: My son

However, in my son’s case, poor auditory working memory was making it hard for him to even process language

At the age of two I began teaching my son how to speak by using a very specific repetitive language method. I literally had to talk and talk and talk for an hour every day about my son’s activities (while he was playing) for six whole months. I spent a total of 180 hours saying words, sentences and phrases over and over again until the words began to stick in the relevant areas of my son’s brain.

Within two weeks of using this speech therapy technique, my son was saying ‘mum,’ and ‘dad.’ Within a month he had 50 words – and at the age of three my son had over 250 words in his vocabulary.

To me, the way my son was learning wasn’t normal. Repeating concepts one thousand times over before the brain finally computes them is not ideal.

By the end of kindergarten the link between my son’s poor memory and dyslexia had become quite significant. It was soon realised that my son couldn’t count in the correct order, was unable to retain the alphabet, and could barely read. Words remembered today, would most certainly be forgotten tomorrow.

Again, the repetition factor came up at the beginning of year one. Again, I had to intervene outside of the classroom, and help teach my son how to read. Conscientiously he read to me for nine months, every night for half an hour, until he could read fluently.

My son just couldn’t retain information in the time frame expected – and the link between memory and repetition grew.

Earlier this year, part way into grade two, I found out that my son can barely spell. He is also at the bottom of the class for maths.

Once back in the paediatrician’s office, it was finally confirmed that my son has writing dyslexia, (which is otherwise know as dysgraphia) and dyscalgulia (an inability to understand or to retain mathematical concepts).


Working memory and learning difficulties

There is a limit to the amount of information people can hold in their working memory. The capacity changes across the lifespan, and varies greatly between people of the same age.

For a child who is developing normally, working memory capacity increases progressively up till the age of 14/15 years old, where it will ideally reach an adult capacity.

For children with learning difficulties, working memory develops differently – resulting in a smaller capacity than usual for their age.

A deficit within the working memory is a common feature of developmental disorders, and more specific learning difficulties, including ADHD, dyslexia, specific language impairment, and reading and mathematical difficulties.

Consequences of poor working memory include poor results in class work, usually across all subject areas. Interventions attempt to target and train working memory function directly.

From my experience, children with working memory difficulties do eventually learn the required task. However, it takes a lot of persistence, and a lot of patience;  but, its worth it.

For example; I recently found out that my son could barely spell. He didn’t understand that a word is a sequence, and he was literally guessing the letters needed to form a word.  He didn’t even know his vowels.

While every other child in the classroom had the working memory  to retain the concept, and the ability to connect the sounds heard to the letters to form a word; my son was sitting in his seat, unable to process what he was being asked to do.

So, I knuckled down, and spent ten weeks teaching my son how to spell. Firstly, I taught him how to sound out simple words – each with a vowel sound. Every day we sat in a quiet room and sounded out words. This method directly involved his brain in the task. I was doing everything I could to encourage my son’s brain to start matching the letters with the sounds he was hearing.

He got there in the end! Last week he got seven out of nine in his spelling test.

People with dyslexia struggle with language order. Visually speaking, they walk into their brain and they can’t find the letters  needed to spell the word. Their brain can’t match the letters with the sound.

For someone with dyslexia, the letters are all jumbled up, and out of order. Dyslexics struggle with working out what letters to look for, how to find them, or where to put them once they do find them.

Signs and symptoms of dyslexia in children

  • Late to talk, and pronunciation problems.
  • Struggle to learn basic concepts including the alphabet, colours and numbers.
  • Poor handwriting, and fine motor.
  • Confusing letters such as ”b” and ”d,” or the order of letters within a word.
  • Difficulty in understanding the connection between a letter and the sound of the letter. 25% of people who suffer from dyslexia also show symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.





The complex brain: children with learning difficulties

My son’s brain is complex. My son is hilariously funny, in a quirky kind of way. He almost always jumps out of bed and begins his morning with an over the top dance, and a song with non-existent words, words he apparently made up.

Sometimes he is so hyperactive that he just can’t stop. Without medication, he cannot concentrate, sit still, and will exhibit difficult behaviours.

My son exists in a different space from other children. This space is an isolated space. His hyperactivity deems him immature, his concentration span keeps him from learning, and his low dopamine levels make him continually seek out high risk situations.

Just as we think he has enough to handle, we are given another diagnosis. My son has ADHD, and dyslexia.

It can take my son’s brain months to process a particular academic concept.

It took ten weeks of intensive teaching on my part to get my son to understand how exactly one goes about sounding out a simple word. For this to happen, my son needed complete silence as I sat with him everyday for twenty minutes repeating simple words, and emphasising the five vowel sounds.

His fine motor skills are poor. His hands hurt when he is asked to write. His writing is all over the page, and his fingers ache when he does up the buttons on his school shirt.

My son’s brain has always performed differently. At eighteen months old he could scoot on a two wheeler scooter. At age of four, he could do a pretty good sized jump on his scooter.

However, oddly enough, by the age of two years old, my son could not say one single word!

I quickly adopted a well know speech pathology technique and taught my son how to speak.

For the next six months, for one hour every single day, I tirelessly commented on his every action whilst he played. I talked, and talked, and talked, each and everyday, until my son could make full sentences.

My initial thought was that my son was simply a slow talker. However, I was very wrong. His speech difficulty was ultimately a sign of something much deeper.

At the beginning of kindergarten  I was told by my son’s teacher that he may have ADHD.

He was throwing gigantic tantrums in class, he couldn’t sit still, and his impulse control was non-existent. By the end of the year, most of his friends realised that going near my little boy meant they may get a wack.

Towards the end of kindy my son was diagnosed with ADHD by a paediatrician, and medicated.

Once upon a time I questioned the realness of ADHD. Now, I see ADHD exactly for what it is; a complex disorder where impulse control, hyperactivity, and a lack of concentration are at the fore front of the problem.

I have watched my son lose control of his inhibitions. I have watched his behaviour climax to out of control degrees. I have watched him dance while trying to read a book, cry because he doesn’t understand his own brain, and sit in a deep sense of shame because he doesn’t want to behave badly, or to be an underachiever.

At the age of seven my son is finally beginning to achieve academically, and in his social life. However, his conditions do mean that he is now a continual work in progress.

My son walked into the kitchen this morning while I was reading his report card. He asked me if he had done well, and I told him he had. He looked over my shoulder and stared at his grades. His happy face immediately turned pale, and resinated disappointment.

He wanted to know if he had only received low grades? So, I told him that are many good things about his report, and that I am really proud of him.

He was happy with my answer, and his face immediately lit up again.

I don’t understand how the department of education, and a society can allow children to receive D’s. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I always thought keeping our children’s self-esteem high at all times was one of the most important things we as a society can do. Children only want A’S and B’s. No-one wants a C or a D. These grades make children feel stupid.

My life is about keeping my son’s wings flying high in the sky. Nobody wins if children think they are silly. These children turn into adults with limited confidence. Both their past successes, and the times they were least successful mould them into the adults they become.

The teachers tell me not to show my son his report card. My son knows that twice a year he brings home his report card in a yellow envelope.

There are so many great things about my son besides his grades. My son is very switched on, highly intuitive, is a great soccer player, a sound cricket player, and a lovely brother.

He would give you his last lolly if you really wanted it, and he is the first person to help if help is what you need. My son’s brain is different from other children’s. He is in a category of his own.