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.


5 responses

  1. Thank you so much for this. We’re in a bad place with Spencer on this right now and trying to figure out our next steps. This was very (very!) helpful to read. My mind is going in too many directions right now to write more… but, thank you. And… I hope the surgery went well!!!

  2. I have to say I remember reading blogs and calling people, and I heard of none of these issues prior to adoption. While I never comment, I just wanted to let you know that (with my ignorance) I question the ADHD. There are too many kids from Ethiopia getting that diagnosis. We tried that. While a lot of the behaviors we had with my son his psychiatrist and psychologist said were not ADHD behaviors, they believed (and convinced me) that he had adhd too. None of the medications for adhd worked more than a week (if I remember correctly). They would control impulses, mood, etc for maybe a few days, and I would have glimmers of hope of a normal life, and then it was like he had nothing in his system. I wish you ONLY the best. Seriously, I do! I just hope the behaviors are ADHD (makes it easier to treat imo) and that things don’t escalate. The clerk at WalMart remembered me many months later after our one visit. It wasn’t fun. Thanks for your honesty.

  3. First, I’m so sorry I’m so incredibly slow to read blogs these days. (Actually, I often read them fairly quickly, but getting to comment on them is another thing.) This sounds like it’s been a real issue for you guys, and it also sounds like you’ve been doing your homework and working with some experts in trying to figure out the root cause. I hope the surgery helped with the sleep issue and you can get some clarity as to what the cause of his hyperactivity is. I’ve read about the coffee/caffeine thing before and believe that it works. My husband diagnosed himself (informally) with Adult ADD a few years ago after realizing that caffeine in the evenings helps him focus and calm down. Good luck. You are working hard to help your son!

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