Diagnosis: ADHD

I’m taking a break from my “What I’ve Learned” series to bring you this update on Ayub.

As I’m sure you have inferred from my blog, Ayub is a “high-energy” child.  (Translation…sometimes he’s bat shit crazy.)  He has had classic symptoms of ADHD since arriving home.  His teacher addressed it with us in our recent conference, and says that it is interfering with not only his learning, but that she’s had complaints from another parent.  (Ugh…yes, we are the parents of “that kid” in class.)


(Note the scab on his head caused by jumping down the stairs and hitting the wall on the landing.)

Because the symptoms of ADHD can also be caused by trauma, we decided to wait a while before addressing it.  Well, we’re now tired of chasing a whirling tornado around town, and so we’ve moved forward with that piece.  In the process, I’ve found some interesting stuff that might be helpful to other adoptive parents.

1.  It can be hard to differentiate trauma from ADHD.

As mentioned above, many times adopted children have suffered trauma in their past.  Just the act of losing one family and gaining another (even if done at birth) is traumatic.  Therefore, adopted children sometime live in a state of hypervigilence.  They are constantly scanning the environment, looking for danger.  This can mimic the symptoms of ADHD, since those children also have trouble focusing on only one thing at a time.  Here’s a good article.  Because of this, we wanted to make sure we were treating the right thing.  Ayub’s therapist says that while there may still be some trauma, the behaviors should have lessoned over time, so it’s time to take the next step.  She did all of the inventories with us and the teacher, and is pretty definitive that he needs more than behavioral therapy.

2.  ADHD symptoms have been linked to gluten and certain food dyes.

We gave the gluten-free lifestyle a whirl.  While we initially thought we saw some improvement, it wasn’t enough to continue torturing my family with pasta that tastes like corn.  I never had the guts to try the Feingold Diet, which requires you to take out any artificial food coloring from the diet, although we have tried to minimize everyone’s intake of colors.

3.  ADHD medication is actually a stimulant.

ADHD affects the part of the brain which normally inhibits behavior – the part of your brain that tells you dancing on the table at Applebee’s isn’t a good idea.  Therefore, although you would think that the last thing hyper kids need is more stimulation, you actually use a stimulant to activate that part of the brain.  Therefore, the behaviors are diminished, even though the brain is now even more stimulated than before.  We’ve found this to be true with Ayub.  He has always loved coffee, since coming home from Ethiopia.  We used to occasionally let him have decaf (because we figured caffeine would send him orbiting around the moon).  We then tried caffeine and found that it actually settles him down.  Now we give him regular coffee whenever we need to settle him down a little.  (Please don’t feel the need to point out that this is not a good long-term solution…I am aware.)  This leads us to believe that stimulant medication may have a very positive effect on him.

4.  Sleep apnea can also cause ADHD symptoms.

We took Ayub for a sleep study, based on the recommendation of his ENT.  On whatever scale they use, Ayub should have been below 1.0.  He was 2.7.  So, he’s not getting enough restful sleep at night.  (This came as a surprise, because to us it seems like he is the sleeping dead.)  This can cause kids to be more hyper during the day because they are actually trying to keep themselves awake.  Many times, having tonsils and/or adenoids removed can eliminate the ADHD symptoms by allowing the child to breathe and sleep better at night.  Who knew?  Well, I guess these guys did.

Based on all of this, here is our plan.

  • Tomorrow, Ayub will have his tonsils and adenoids removed.  We’re hoping that this alone will start to improve his daytime behavior.  I’m optimistic, but trying not to get my hopes too high.
  • The week before Christmas, we are meeting with Ayub’s pediatrician to discuss ADHD medication.  She wanted to wait at least three weeks after the surgery to see if we could tell a difference.
  • We will continue to work with his therapist on any possible trauma that may be causing symptoms as well as behavioral therapies we can use as intervention at home.

I have to admit, I used to be in the camp of “ADHD isn’t a real thing…it’s just kids being kids.”  But now that I’ve lived with Ayub, I understand that he really can’t control it.  He sooooo wants to be a good kid.  He wants to stay on green.  He wants to earn privileges.  He just can’t.  I’m hoping that our three-point plan will help him be the kid he wants to be.


What I’ve Learned About Adoption (Part 3 – Race)

We were warned that we would be a conspicuous family.  Obviously, when we are all together in public, it’s pretty obvious that our kids are adopted.  And I was prepared for a rash of comments and judgement about that.  You know what?  It hasn’t happened.  Even when we were living in the South, people weren’t all that much surprised to see us as a family.  I was actually surprised at how many people automatically assumed that I was the kids’ mom, not the babysitter or foster parent.

But that doesn’t mean that having African kids hasn’t caused me to do a lot of thinking about race relations in America.

Since we’ve been  parents to black kids,

So to all of you who say that racism is in the past…you are wrong.  In fairness, outright hostility is not as common.  People use more politically correct terms.  But the truth is that in this country, black people are not equal to white people.

I’ve started playing a new game when in public with my kids.

I play against myself and try to beat my own score.  But, if you’d like to play along, here it is.

To Play:

Round 1 – Take your African child to a public place.  I recommend playgrounds, malls, children’s museums, restaurants, ice skating lessons or any other busy place.  The more people, the higher your chances to score.

Round 2 – Move away from the child.  Don’t go too far, or you may miss some of the scoring possibilities.  But you can’t be holding hands or talking to the child.  Just let them play.  Find a bench where you can see your child.

Scoring – Tally your total score using the guide below.

  • 1 point for every person who starts to look around with the “where is this child’s parent” look.  You know the one…the glance around the room looking for a person of color who must be with this kid.
  • 2 points for every person who asks another random person if they know where the child’s parent is.
  • 5 points for anyone who actually asks your child where his/her mom is.
  • 10 points if someone comments to the random black woman in line about how cute her kid is.  Only it’s your kid.  (Yes, this really happened.  Andrew got the 10-pointer.)

I play this game with both Lucy and Ayub.  Although Ayub’s behavior sometimes warrants a “where’s your mom” comment, it is actually Lucy who scores higher.

So the sad part of this is that it shouldn’t be a game.  I should be able to sit on a bench and watch my kids play the same way the other parents do.  I have come to the sad conclusion that most people assume that a black child was brought to this location by black parents who just left them there.  Because we all know black people are bad parents, right?  No one is checking to see who the little blond girl belongs to.  Am I right?  (Unless, of course, the little blond girl steals toys or throws sand.)

DSC_1858The other thing I’ve noticed since having African-American kids is that I was missing out on a lot before.  I never noticed that African-Americans weren’t talking to me.  They were never UNfriendly.  But now, they seem much more comfortable with me.  We carry on conversations about hair care with the cashier at Target.  We chat about politics with the guy at the baseball field.  We chit-chat about child development with the (only) black mom at the library.  It makes me sad for all the years that black people thought they couldn’t talk to me.  I know, weird.  File this under “Things I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know.”

As for me, raising children of color, it’s a tough road.  I want my kids to be comfortable with who they are, but the reality is that they are stuck between two (maybe three, depending how you do the math) cultures.  I can’t help them be African-American.  I can give them opportunities and try my best to be aware, but I’ve never had to walk in their shoes.  I can avoid buying them monkeys on their clothes and take them to African cultural events, but I’ve never been looked at suspiciously in a convenience store.  I can learn about African hair and put them in racially diverse schools, but I’ve never been judged by my skin color.  I will continue to do all I can, but I also recognize that I can’t change the way the world sees my kids.

What I’ve Learned About Adoption (Part 2 – Special Needs)

We didn’t start out to adopt a special needs child.

When we first explored adoption, we thought about foster adopt.  Then we found out that most of those kids are older or special needs.  “No, thank you, we’re not interested in special needs adoption.”  When working on our home study, we had the option to list which special needs we would feel comfortable parenting.  “No special needs, please.”  When we looked into Ethiopia adoption, everyone told us how these kids were well-loved and cared for, even in the orphanages.  They didn’t have the trauma that Eastern European kids had experienced and so were less likely to have special needs.  “Yes, please, sign us up!”

So, years later, we brought home two “healthy” kids.  And we struggled with language and attachment like everyone does.  Only it didn’t go away.  It didn’t get easier at the six month mark, or even at a year.  Only recently have I come to admit it to myself.

I am the parent of a special needs child.

In the last 19 months, I have learned about the RTI process, developing an IEP, what’s allowed under Section 504, wand hat the differences may be between trauma and ADHD.  I’ve been to speech therapy, behavioral therapy, and play therapy.  I’ve advocated for my kid to receive services, even when the school told me he didn’t qualify.  I’ve home schooled during the summer and every day before or after school to give my kid a fighting chance of catching up with his peers.  I’ve watched videos, surfed the blogs, read books and listened to podcasts looking for help with the behavioral challenges we face.  And this is just with one kid.


Yes, but Lucy will be fine, because she was adopted so young.  Ummm…now I’m not so sure about that.  She may be more prepared academically when the time comes, but she will have the same trauma of losing her first family.  She has already started to ask about her other family and we talk about them every night before she goes to sleep.  She has already said she wants to go to “Opia.”  She is so little, but she has lost so much.  And she knows this.  And some day, I will have to advocate for her, too.  For her not to have to do a family tree assignment, or not to be treated differently in science class when studying genetics.

So, here’s what I’ve decided.  ALL adoptions are special needs adoptions.  Yes, some are more obvious.  Some are more life altering.  But ALL of them are special needs.  If you know someone who has adopted kids, call her up this week and offer to take a casserole.  Because even though her child may not be in the hospital or chronically ill, I guarantee you that she could use a break.  (Unless your friend is me, in which case, no one in my family will eat a casserole.)

But this is not all a downer.  By having special needs kids, I am able to rejoice when we do make progress.  When my older kids learned to read, it was a non-event.  I loved having them read to me, but I can’t tell you the day or the moment that I knew they could read.  Working with Ayub with reading has been such a wild ride.  There were days where I was sure that he’d be illiterate all his life.  Then, one day, he got it.  I can tell you the exact page of the book because I remember seeing the lightbulb go off over his head.  He got it.  And he knew it, too.  He was so excited, and he read 11 words.  That kind of joy only comes after you work really hard for something.  And both of us got to experience it together.  I know he’ll continue to make strides like that, and that helps a little when the rough days come.

What I’ve Learned About Adoption (Part 1- Ethics)

Here we are in November again.  National Adoption Month.  I’m sure some of you enjoyed going to church last Sunday on “Orphan Sunday” to hear about how you should adopt a child.  I have a lot of trouble with this concept.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for advocating for vulnerable children and helping those in need find forever homes.  But, I think having a special day set aside to try to convince people to bring another life into their home may be oversimplifying things a bit.

So I decided that this month, I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned about adoption.  It’s been almost five years since we began our adoption journey.  Along the way, I’ve picked up a few things.  But please know that I am not an expert.  On anything.  What I want to share are my own opinions.  My own thought processes.  My own story.

I thought I’d start by talking about adoption ethics.  This is a post that I have started and stopped writing many times because I feel like there are a lot of people who have studied it more and said it all better than I will.  But here are my thoughts anyway.

First, the international adoption system is a huge ethical wasteland.  There, I said it.  I think it’s a mess.  There are millions (maybe…a lot of numbers get thrown around) of orphans.  And there a lot (no one ever counted these) families who would like to have another child.  So it seems logical that you could pair the two and voila, there would be a happy ending for everyone.  But wait.  There has to be a system to match these orphans with parents.  Enter the government.  There has to be a system in place to care for these orphans while the government does that work.  Enter the orphanages.  And there has to be someone to usher the adoptive parents through the whole process.  Enter the adoption agencies.  Now you have three entities who should have the child’s best interest at heart.  Yet, wait.  All of this costs money.  So now you have a system where the Haves and Have Nots are trading money for “services.”  But soon, the Have Nots catch on that there is money on the table.  They can ask for more money.  They can get more children so that the agencies pay them more money to care for them.  And if they need more kids, they have some options.  They can steal them.  They can pay women to breed them.  They can lie to other Have Nots who can’t afford to care for their children.  “Yes, we’ll send them to America.  It will be like summer camp.  And then you’ll get them back.”  Now they have more children and can get more money.  As long as the system is so one sided, with Haves and Have Nots flowing cash back and forth, someone will always try to scam the system.

So, if I see the wrongs in the system, why did we feed into it?  Why would we spend thousands of dollars into a corrupt system?  Why wouldn’t we have used that money for family preservation programs or to build schools or wells to help the Have Nots become Haves?

Well, we wanted more kids.  Yep.  That’s it.  Selfish?  Maybe.

The thing that amazes me is that there are so many in the Ethiopian adoption community who have completed adoptions and are now completely opposed to others doing the same.  I get it.  You learn a lot while traveling the road. But here’s the thing.  You adopted a kid through the system and now you expect others not to?  Huh?  Then you go to church on orphan Sunday and encourage people to adopt more kids because God wants them to care for orphans and widows.  Huh?  Yes, it makes my head spin.

So, because I am in an advice-giving mood, let me tell each of you what you should do.

If you are considering adoption.  Do it.  Make sure you do your research.  Choose an agency that has a strong reputation for ethics.  If you see red flags, DO NOT sign with that agency.  If an agency quotes you a significantly lower price or a significantly shorter wait time than other agencies, be suspicious.  I know it’s hard, because you really, really, really want a cute Ethiopian baby.  But do not ignore warnings and advice of those who have been before you.

If you have already adopted from Ethiopia.  Parent your child.  Do the best you can every day.  And find a way to give back to Ethiopia in a way that is meaningful to you.  Sponsor a child, build a school, give to family preservation programs, sell mittens, or build a well.  Whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  But don’t pick apart those who don’t make the same decisions as you.  We’re a community who should be supporting each other, not criticizing others because they didn’t do it our way.  Others will continue to adopt.  They will continue to do it from Ethiopia or from whatever the next Ethiopia may be.  Advocate for ethical reform, but not at the expense of others’ opportunity to build their family the same way that you were able to do.

If you have no idea what this rant is about.  Just enjoy this cute picture of my kids.

DSC_1070As for me, if I had it to do all over again, would I still adopt from Ethiopia?  Yes.  I still feel like our adoption was ethical, our agency was honest, and we got an accurate story of our children’s reasons for needing a family.  But I do recognize that each adoption like mine contributes to the ongoing ethical problems of adoption.  I wish I knew what the answer was.  I don’t.