Living With ADHD

When a child suffers from ADHD, everyone around him suffers, too. Here’s one family’s story of struggle—and ultimately hope—told in their own words.

By Stephanie Booth
Boy with toy stands at dresser mother watches from backgroundTierney Gearon

Circle-Time Troubles

Once he started preschool, Matthew’s issues became even more glaring. During structured activities or lessons in which Matthew was expected to sit quietly, he instead rolled on the floor, chewed on his clothes, and drooled. His moods swung from elation to fury. And at age four Matthew wasn’t able to identify a single letter or number. Jessica and Lew were at a loss.

Matthew’s preschool teacher pointed out to the Harsteads that excessive chewing and drooling are symptoms of sensory processing disorder (SPD), a neurological dysfunction in which the brain has difficulty integrating the information gathered from the five senses. Doctors confirmed the SPD diagnosis, and three times a week for the next year Matthew attended occupational therapy sessions.


Jessica: SPD therapy gave Matthew much better control over his limbs. And he was so much more with it cognitively that we hoped we had fixed the issue. But our optimism didn’t last. He still couldn’t sit at the dinner table. You would say, “Matthew, brush your teeth and put your shoes on,” and he would simply wander around aimlessly. He couldn’t control his anger. One day he chased another boy with a snow shovel.

Donna Jones, Jessica’s close friend: Matthew isn’t belligerent, though. He has a good heart; he just doesn’t have a filter.

Matthew: I told my mom I felt like a baby bird that fell out of its nest and is flapping its wings. That’s what my mind felt like all the time.

Jessica: By the time Matthew turned five, we’d been told he had autism, Asperger’s, bipolar disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, pervasive development disorder—you name it. Each time, I would freak out and read everything I could about the condition before realizing there was a piece of the puzzle that didn’t fit. And we would be back where we started. It was a very hard time—coping with the constantly changing diagnoses, plus taking care of Jackson and Matthew’s little brother, Thomas [now six].

Lew: Some days Jessica was just fried. Her mood wouldn’t improve until the kids were in bed.

Jessica: Lew’s mother was one of the only people who didn’t see a problem with Matthew. She thought Lew and I were torturing ourselves with all the doctor visits. But I couldn’t stop asking for answers. I was so fearful about Matthew’s future—I felt we were slowly losing our child.

 
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