Week in review – First week on Concerta

So this week was Monster’s first week on drugs.

Monday

This was Monster’s pediatrician appointment, where he was prescribed Concerta to be taken once each day.  The doctor explained it to him that it wouldn’t change who he is, but would help him make the decisions he wants to make.  “You can still choose not to do your schoolwork if you want, but it will be because you’re choosing that, not because you’re not able to focus on it.”  He seemed fine with this, and didn’t really ask any questions.

Tuesday

This was the first day.  The first challenge was actually swallowing the pill.  It’s a tiny thing, only about a centimeter long and half that wide, but it didn’t go down his throat without a bunch of complaining.  I tried explaining it to him the same way I learned a pill: “Just put it on your tongue and use your finger to push it to the back of your throat.”  Then we tried water, and yogurt, and then back to the finger, only now the pill is starting to dissolve, so it tastes awful for him.  Finally I convinced him that he had to push it just a bit past the gag reflex, and it went down.  A bunch of water to wash it down and he finished his breakfast.  I had officially begun drugging my child.
It was a bit cold, and there was about 15 cm of fresh snow on the ground, so very few people had shoveled their sidewalks by the time we walked to school.  Also it was still snowing.  This made it a lot more work for the M&Ms to trudge through all this than it normally would be.  They were troopers though, and didn’t complain too much.  Monster seemed a bit tired and/or despondent on the walk to school.  I’m not sure if it was the medicine, or the fresh snow (the first real snowfall of the year) or just the extra effort required to walk through the snow.  Whatever the case, naturally my mind instantly jumped on the idea that I screwed up by  medicating him, that he’s going to be horribly depressed and screwed up because of the decision, and it was all my fault.  So, I dropped him off at school worrying about this, and then walked Monkey to his school, where he proceeded to alternate between being excited about getting to stomp through snow and being cranky that he had to walk through all the deep snow.
I was pretty tired during the afternoon, and I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I let Monkey watch a few extra YouTube videos in the afternoon so that I could laze around on the couch.  We drove to pick Monster up from school, me fearing the worst.  Would he have accomplished anything?  Was he horribly depressed?  Was he still completely unable to focus?  I got there, and asked Monster how his day went, and he said “good” and that’s it.  I talked to his teacher, and asked how his day was, she told me that it was good, that he had finished most of his work, but was behind on some math work and asked that I help him catch up.  OK, so it wasn’t the magic cure-all that everyone always hopes for, but it didn’t seem to have destroyed him as a person.  Yet.

We went tobogganing after school.  It was a bit interesting to watch him, and compare him to himself in the past.  As this was the first snowfall of the year, he hadn’t actually been tobogganing (or other outside play in the snow) since last year.  But he did great.  He was having fun, even though he got frustrated that the sled wouldn’t go where he wanted and he kept veering off course.  He went down the hill once, and was upset that he didn’t go straight, then he went the next time, went a bit straighter, and was upset that he didn’t follow the same track as the first time.  Then there was the issue with Monkey walking in Monster’s trails and wrecking them, and then he wasn’t going as far as he wanted to.  But the amazing thing was that he stuck with it.  At no point, not even the one time he was on the verge of tears because it wasn’t working properly, did he ask to go home.  I’m not sure how much this can be attributed to his other recent experiences with success after frustration in Cub Scouts, and how much can be attributed to the medicine, but it was wonderful to see.  Last year it would have been two slides down the hill, gotten frustrated that it wasn’t working the way he wanted, then get mad/frustrated/beg to go home.

We finally left for home about an hour and a half later, and started doing homework.  First up, flashcards.  I’ve been working with him on these, and helping him stay focused from start to finish for a while now.  I don’t know whether I’m happy or not to report that he did no better or worse than is typical, as far as staying focused.  Most likely the medicine was wearing off by this point though, so this was probably to be expected.  The rest of his homework went similarly, not significantly different from how it’s gone in the past.

Wednesday

The second day with his new pills.  They went down much easier, still a bit uncomfortable though.  It was a bit warmer for the walk, and Monster and Monkey were both more energetic, running to and fro as we walked.  Whether this was because of the warmer air, the fact that most of the sidewalks had been shoveled, getting used to the medicine or just random mood fluctuations, I don’t know.
Monster had another decent day at school.  Nothing spectacular, but not a bad day by any stretch of the imagination.  We again went tobogganing after school, with similar results but a bit less energy than Tuesday.  Homework was largely similar to Tuesday.
Cubs was fun, we brought in an old computer to dismantle.  Monster wanted to keep the motherboard and a few more pieces as a play area for his Lego.  His focus was about normal during the dismantling, and he had a lot of fun.
The most interesting part of Wednesday was story time.  To explain, just before bed, we lie down and I read Monster a story.  We’re currently reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Well, this night Monster couldn’t sit still for anything.  He was up reading his posters and art projects on the wall, climbing around to look at his Lego, grabbing the bookmark to try to read what it said.  Basically completely distracted and completely fascinated by everything around him.  I don’t know what to make of this: just really excited after an interesting time at Cubs, rebounding as the medication wore off, or something else entirely.

Thursday

Thursday morning both Monster and Monkey were up about 45 minutes earlier than normal.  Monster woke up first, and I’m not sure if he woke Monkey up, or if Monkey managed that on his own.  No matter, they were both in reasonably good spirits, though I worried that they would be tired and cranky by the time we got to our plans for the evening.  Today the medicine went down with almost no reaction.  Awesome.  Project teach Monster to swallow pills: Success.
The walk to school was uneventful, and Monster had another good day at school.  Maybe a bit better than the last couple of days.  Homework had a few frustrating moments as Monster wasn’t paying attention.  This may have been more about my lack of patience at this point (still needed to make supper in order to get out the door on time) than his performance.
After supper, we went to the Festival of Trees downtown.  It’s a big fundraiser held every year for the University Hospital Foundation.  The M&Ms had a blast, and kept having fun even though Monster’s friend who was meeting us there was running late.  We did a scavenger hunt together (Monster read all the clues for us), played some hockey, decorated some cookies, and Monkey bought me a Christmas present.
Me and my stylish Christmas present from Monkey.
2014
2015
One other thing we did was to get the same picture this year as we did last year, with Dr. Deer.  Check out the difference in the M&M’s moods this year, compared to last.

Friday

Friday morning, Monster was again up bright and early (I wonder if he’s less exhausted from trying to regulate his behavior all day) and in good spirits.  Since Friday morning is pancake breakfast at our house, and Monkey was very disappointed that he didn’t get to help last week, I woke Monkey up to give him the chance to help this week.  To my surprise, both M&Ms decided to help make pancakes.  Monster took his pill without even a comment, and it was off to school.  It was much warmer, and the kids had a lot of fun on the walk.  The Ex texted me to say she had spoken with Monster’s teacher, and that Thursday and Friday were better than Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Seems like it’s been steadily improving all week then.  He even finished his art project today, not something he’s normally known for doing.

Parting thoughts

I don’t know how much of his improvement at school can be attributed to the medicine.  Ever other time we’ve taken him to the doctor and discussed his ADHD, it’s improved for a bit at school, simply because he was more aware of it.  Only time will tell.  I’m going to try to post weekly updates every week on Friday or Saturday, time permitting.  I’m sure there will be plenty of times I don’t finish it, and it gets posted along with the following week’s updates.

Starting Out

Cast of Characters

Me:

Name: Devin
Birthdate: February 5, 1985
Age: 30

My wife:

Name: Bunny
Birthdate: June 13,  1986
Age: 29

My children (the M&Ms):

Name: Monster
Birthdate: May 31, 2007
Age: 8
Grade: 3

Name: Monkey
Birthdate: May 26, 2011
Age: 4
Grade: Pre-K

Setting

Location: Alberta, Canada
Time: Present day

The story so far

In the beginning there was nothing, no time, no space, no matter.  Then suddenly there was something, a whole lot of something.  All of the something, in fact.  Then a little bit of time passed, and eventually I was born.  This has been widely regarded as the entire purpose for which the universe was set in motion, though there is still some small disagreement on this fact.  There may have been some physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology in the intervening time, but that’s not really relevant to this story.  A smaller time later the M&Ms were born.

I have an ex-wife, who is the mother of Monster and Monkey.  We separated in early 2013, when Monster was 5 years old, and Monkey was 1.  We have shared custody: in a typical week, the children are with me from Monday afternoon until Friday morning, and with her for the weekends.  I met and started seeing Bunny a few months after separating from my ex.  I wasn’t looking for anything too serious at the time, but one thing led to another, and we were married earlier this year on May 30.

Monster has been diagnosed with ADHD; and we’ve been told that, while it’s too early to diagnose him, Monkey is likely to be as well.  He struggles greatly to pay attention in school, and to sit still to do his homework, Though he’s an intelligent boy, his inability to do his work has resulted in him falling behind in several areas at school (though in others, he is excelling).  Unfortunately, because of his struggles with schoolwork, he is developing a dislike of school. (Wouldn’t you, if you had a constant struggle to complete tasks that everyone around you finds easy?)

Bunny and I have tried some behavioral interventions, with some limited success:

  • Cub Scouts
    He started Cub Scouts earlier this year, and really enjoys it.  We (Bunny and I) had hoped that this would give him the opportunity to experience some success in his life, and that would in turn help him feel less helpless in other environments.  While I think it has done wonders for his frustration tolerance, I don’t know that it has helped him feel empowered as we had hoped.
  • Flashcards
    I created some digital flashcards to help him with some areas that he was struggling, primarily spelling, reading, and math.  While I think this has been successful in helping remedy some of his difficulties, it’s often a bit of a struggle to get him to complete them in a timely manner.  More recently, I’ve started offering him incentives (one M&M candy for every three questions he doesn’t get distracted) to stay focused on the task, and this has helped quite significantly.  However, the success of the flashcards has been limited, in part due to a lack of buy-in from my ex while Monster is at her house.
  • Routines
    I set up morning and bedtime routines for both Monster and Monkey.  Previously it was a constant struggle to get out the door in the morning, or to get ready for bed.  While Monster knew what the expectations were (get up, get dressed, brush teeth, have breakfast, etc.) it was a constant struggle for him to figure out which he would be doing when.  Once I explained it to him that he now had a routine to complete (and once completed, is allowed to play Minecraft until time to get ready to leave).  These days, all I ever need to do to remind him to keep going is to ask “Are you finished your morning routine?” or “What’s next in your routine?”, and he usually gets back to it pretty well.
  • Notes on his desk
    We asked his teacher to tape notes to his desk reminding him to stay seated and to ask questions when he’s unsure what to do.  Previously, once he’d decided he didn’t know what to do, he’d get distracted by something else and be off disrupting class.  I’m not sure how much this has helped, possibly a little.  I think he’s embarrassed to ask questions so the whole class can hear, so he walks to the teacher’s desk to ask in private.  While she doesn’t mind this in a theoretical sense, he often gets distracted en route and ends up disrupting someone else’s work.
  • Breaking things up
    This was more helpful for Monkey.  It’s often difficult to get Monkey to get ready to leave the house in the morning to walk to school.  I’ve found that by breaking it up into steps, with breaks in between for a bit of play, it makes it much more manageable.  It’s difficult to get your snowsuit on and walk to school, but it’s not so bad if we just get our snowsuit on and then can play.  I separated the jobs of getting dressed to go out and actually going out by about 5 minutes, and it’s helped immensely.
I’m sure there are other things that we’ve done to try to help him, but these are the main ones I can think of right now.  Despite this, Monster is still struggling with school, and still doesn’t enjoy going.  His pediatrician is worried, as are Bunny and I, that if his dislike of school continues, it will translate into a dislike of learning in general, and give him much more significant difficulties later in life. 
Because of this, after much consideration, we’ve decided to start him on ADHD medication.  He’s now (starting as of this morning) taking 18 mg Concerta tablets each morning.  This is the first time in his life that he’s had to swallow a pill whole, so that was a bit of a struggle this morning.  I remember that I struggled with this when I was younger, and the way I eventually taught myself to do it was to set it on my tongue and slide it towards the back of my throat with my finger.  It took him a few tries, and by the time he got it down he had a bad taste in his mouth because the medicine had started to dissolve, but it made it down eventually (we also tried washing it down with water, and sticking it in some yogurt, with no success).

Purpose

I’m starting this blog in part as a journal of my experiences, so I can keep track of how things are progressing.  I’m not going to stop behavioral interventions now that Monster is on medication, I’m going to keep trying to help him acquire the executive skills he’s lacking, in the hope that he can get off the medication as soon as possible.  I’ll keep a record of what’s working and what’s not working, so that I’ll be able to look back and adjust as necessary.  In addition to Monster’s ADHD, I intend to write about my experiences as a single dad who’s responsible for most of the children’s school time.  It’s often difficult because I don’t get very much non-school time with the M&Ms.  I’ve learned some ways to get relationship building and fun activities into the evenings, but it’s not always easy, particularly because of Monster’s difficulties in school.
Another reason is that I hope my adventures can help others.  If you’re a parent struggling to deal with your child’s ADHD, I hope that you can find some suggestions here that help you out.  If you’re a single parent with limited non-school time with your child(ren), I feel your pain and hope you can find some suggestions here that help you.
The final reason is that I would like the input and suggestions from anyone who takes the time to read this.  If you have any thoughts or experiences that you think would help, I welcome your comments.  I’m always on the lookout for suggestions on how to strengthen my relationship with the M&Ms (and with Bunny too), as well as on how to help Monster manage his ADHD.

A final note

One last thing: I intend to write this blog with the expectation that the M&Ms will someday find it and read it.  As such, I’ll do my best to keep things factual and non-judgmental, no matter how frustrated I get with something.  While I don’t plan on complaining about my ex on here, I will discuss her involvement in things where it’s relevant.  Please keep the comment section family friendly and respectful:  “I don’t think that’s effective because reasons” or “Have you tried this instead?” are both helpful comments while “You’re stupid for doing that” is unhelpful and will likely be deleted.  Swear words are out altogether.  Use your judgement (because I’ll use mine): if it’s not something you would say in front of your, or someone else’s children, don’t say it here.