Over the years I have blogged about my son Nick and his dilemmas in school, which began when he was “kicked out” of a Montessori program at age three for behavior that the director described as “autistic.” We rushed to a doctor for an assessment, but Nick's autism tests were largely negative. We removed Nick from Montessori and enrolled him in a more structured public school program.
Nick excelled in the public school environment until his last few high school years in which he has—while enrolled in all AP and Honors courses — responded to homework with a large degree of apathy and disinterest. (Nick will score “5” on AP exams but earn a low grade in the corresponding course). Nick’s father (my ex--Jeff) and I have debated the causes of Nick's problem. I wanted Nick retested for autism spectrum and attention disorders. Jeff would describe Nick's “absolute disdain for discipline” and point me to relevant South Park episodes.
Nick received a low-level diagnosis of inattentive ADD when I had him retested recently—not high enough to warrant consistent pharmaceutical intervention, but low enough to suggest that a concentration problem exists. Nick’s father and I have resisted putting our son on psychostimulant drugs, but we recently discovered that Nick had been untruthful about his status in school and was sporting all “F’s for the last quarter of his senior year. Also unbeknownst to us, Nick tried an A.D.D. pill from a friend of his and was "amazed" at the results--"Mom, I'd like to get a prescription." We took him in to our pediatrician within two days and got him an order of Vyvanse.
The truth about our generation of A.D.D. and A.D.H.D. children seems to lie somewhere between the poles of neurological anomalies and environmental behaviors. We are living through the age of neuroscience in which fascinating discoveries about the brain and psychology are frequent. Unfortunately, this generation has also produced helicopter parents, overcrowded public classrooms and expensive college degrees. Short-term fixes for improving grades are so popular (and financially successful) that other options do not seem as feasible. The costs are high for not performing well in school these days.
The 2007 ADD/ADHD map of the United States shows an emphasis for diagnoses in the eastern and southern states, with an overall U.S. average of 9.5% of all children from ages 4-17 diagnosed — twice as many boys as girls. But as psychology professor L. Alan Sroufe claims in a New York Times article about his many studies of the problem and its medications, “Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems.”
The A.D.D. drugs may be a day late and a dollar short for improving my son’s GPA, but we think that Nick may actually graduate on June 1st. Is it the drugs that have been helping him or has Nick finally kicked it into gear while we were withdrawing every privilege known to teenkind?
We like our over-stimulated son so far. This behavior certainly would have been preferable to the angry homework encounters we've had over the last few years--“What do you mean you forgot to turn the project in?!” I have concerns, though, about the long-term medical effects. I know that many of you out there will have similar experiences with smart children who have focus issues (--budding college professors, as one friend suggested). I would appreciate any feedback or hearing about your experiences with Vyvanse...