Tag Archives: medication

Nothing is Black & White

Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if everything was black and white?  I have friends for whom some things are totally black and white.  In some ways I envy them their strong convictions and their ability to feel so confident in the perceived obviousness of their beliefs.  At the same time I wonder about whether they truly believe with 100% certainty that the issue is totally black and white, or do they, deep down, struggle like I do.

I know people….many people, in fact, who would say that getting all vaccinations on exactly Alberta’s vaccine schedule is critical and anyone who feels or does any differently is completely insane, and possibly even criminal for the potential harm to the community.  I’ve heard people say parents should lose their children if they choose not to vaccinate.  I also know several people who feel that all vaccines are evil and have no place in our children’s bodies.  I always hesitate to bring up this topic in a public forum as it is SO contentious for so many people.  The vitriol spewed online from both sides of the issue is so offensive and ridiculous that I refuse to read it anymore.  At the end of the day, I don’t care if you are pro vaccine or anti vaccine, or vaccinate on a delayed schedule, or pick and choose vaccines that you feel comfortable with.  I really don’t.  It’s none of my business what you choose to do for your children. (and yes, I know that from a herd immunity perspective many feel it IS their business…that’s ok.  I don’t agree.) I am not anti-vaccine.  But I’m also not pro-vaccine.  It’s not black and white for me.  It’s so grey that I have lost sleep over it.  Numerous times.  I am suspicious of the entire vaccine issue because it is BIG BUSINESS. On both sides of the issue.  I’m a naturally suspicious person, and I have a hard time believing that Big Pharma is totally benevolent.  That said, there is definitely plenty of research that overwhelmingly supports vaccination as a public health life saver.  I have also seen plenty of literature to support that vaccines can do plenty of harm.  Given that money talks, and both sides of the issue have much to gain financially by promoting their ‘side’, I often wonder what we should be believing.  Then you see articles like this: Harvard Sugar Conspiracy and Junk Science and you wonder if ANY of the literature on either side of the issue is valid at all.  And let’s not forget that the media is held even less accountable on how they spin ‘news’ stories, so even reading the above two articles has to be taken with a considerable ‘grain of salt.’  Websites are filled with propaganda and it is IMPOSSIBLE to feel confident that anything you are reading is real.  Or at least it’s impossible for me.

Now take a kid like Berrik.  Diagnosed with ADHD a couple years ago.  The kid is definitely fidgety, and needs help staying focused.  The psychologist who diagnosed him recommended medication.  His teacher recommended medication (is that a teacher role? at the time I didn’t think so). My family doctor felt he was too young and that we should try other interventions first.  If you look online, you can find information supporting all types of medication, as well as all types of alternative methods of supporting a kid with ADHD.  I have talked to many people about it.  Some have told me their experience with medication was life changing in a positive way.  “Wish we would have done it sooner.”  Others describe horrible side effects that were also life changing on the other end of the spectrum.  Some swear by homeopathy (I can literally see my pharmacist friend cringing here), and some speak highly of essential oils.  The amount of information available is OVERWHELMING.  And to be quite frank, there is so much judgement around this that sometimes I don’t even want to mention it.  Much like vaccines, I’m not pro or anti anything when it comes to ADHD.  Well, I suppose that’s not true.  I’m pro-doing what is best for your child and your family in the context of what is going on at any given time.  And I’m anti- judgement.  I’m not perfect.  And yes, I definitely judge other people.  Anyone who says they don’t is, in my judgement (see what I did there?), lying.  But if I have learned anything about parenting from my experience with Berrik, it’s that the vast majority of us are doing the best we can with the information and tools we have, and that it does no one any good to blame parents for what is happening with their child.  We have no idea what has happened, is happening, or will happen in the future for that child and family in the context of what their life looks like.  We can only fully understand our own experience – or maybe we can’t even do that!

Breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding.  Another contentious one.  Ugh. I had a nursing student say to me one time that breastfeeding beyond 6 months is ‘not natural’.  I laughed out loud at that one.  Breastfeeding is natural.  Drinking milk from other animals, while socially acceptable, is considerably less ‘natural.’.  But I also always advised new moms when I was teaching breastfeeding, that breastfeeding is natural like learning to skateboard, not like breathing.  It’s hard.  And you may fall a lot.  And sometimes you scrape your knees and it takes a while to heal (this is a metaphor for blistered and bleeding nipples…hahaha…it’s actually not funny.  It hurts.  like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, but I digress)  And some of us really dislike skateboarding. And some of us have a skateboard that doesn’t work that well.  And some of us just need to use a different mode of transportation all together because skateboarding is not the way we choose to get around.  Perhaps breast milk vs. formula is proven to be better when comparing the two liquids from a nutrition or antibodies perspective.  Perhaps that is closer to black and white?  I put a ?, because I’m not sure if that even qualifies for black & white distinction.  However, formula unarguably also grows healthy infants into (usually obnoxious) 2 and 3 year olds just as breast milk does.  It’s not black and white.  Grey, grey, grey. And if formula works better for the family, for WHATEVER reason, then it is the better choice.  Period.  Ditto for breastfeeding.  To me, that is what is black & white.

Low carb, low fat, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, organic.  OMG.  Eat what makes you feel best.  I believe that eating real food is important.  But I know that some people feel better eating vegetarian – and others feel better with lots of protein.  If you truly pay attention to how you feel, you will be able to figure out which foods make you feel best.  I know there are people who think that I am a bit over the top with how I feed my family, and especially Berrik. But it works for us, so if you want to know more, then read on.

I’m going to tell you a little about what has worked for us, and I will ask you to remember that this is us doing what we felt/feel is best for our son and our family in the context of what was/is happening in our lives.  It may not work for you.  You may feel we are crackers. Or you may think you might want to try some of what we tried to see if it makes sense for your family.  Take what you want.  Leave the rest.

  1. Diet.  I cannot talk about this enough.  I really do believe that what we put into our bodies impacts pretty much every system.  I think most of us can anecdotally understand and agree with this.  Maybe not.  But I have seen enough evidence in my own body and the bodies of my children to feel like this is important.  For Berrik, this means a focus on whole foods.  Period.  It’s really as simple as that for him. Is the food in it’s whole form?  Then it’s probably good.  Fruit, vegetables, whole cuts of meat, nuts, seeds.  This forms the vast majority of his diet.  I make muffins with coconut flour as a treat.  He has the odd gluten free bun.  We aren’t perfect. But we strive to stick to this way of eating.  For all of us.  And we are all better for it.  Berrik is more focused, and is more able to self-regulate when he eats well and drinks lots of water.  For Berrik sugar and chemical food dyes etc., are like poison.  In his words, they make his brain feel crazy.  In my words, he becomes an unhappy, emotional, unfocused whirlwind of a boy. So we completely avoid those things.  Always.  No exceptions.  It’s what works for him, and he knows it.  When I put him on a very strict diet last January, after 2 weeks he told me his brain no longer feels crazy.  He sees other kids eating candy and he doesn’t even comment.  That’s all the evidence I need.
  2. Exercise.  This seems like a no brainer.  Of course all of us need exercise.  But Berrik functions exceptionally better when he has had time outside. Unstructured, run around, ride bikes, jump, throw balls, chase the dog, play with the neighbor boys time.  When he comes back in he is more able to focus.  He’s happier.  Aren’t we all?
  3. Supplements.  We work with our naturopath to ensure that if Berrik is lacking in any area, that we use supplements to support him until we can address it effectively through diet.  I won’t get into what he has taken, and takes now, as it is completely individual.
  4. Only recently have we started using essential oils. The more I talk about Berrik, through the blog and with other parents, the more anecdotal stories I hear about essential oils and how they have helped other children.  My daughters already use them to diffuse in their rooms (Grandma got them started with a diffuser and some oils).  I am currently trying a blend from Saje that is meant for focus.  It’s hard to tell how well it’s really working as we are always trying new things in terms of how we do school and even timing of the exercise and fresh air…  so nothing to report yet.  I have a few other oils on order based on the anecdotal feedback of several moms.  I’ll keep you posted on how this goes once they arrive.  I will say that he has been more focused at Sound Connections and school lately, but it could be a few different things contributing to that, so we shall see.
  5. Behavior modification.  I dislike this term because in my head it is harsh sounding. I don’t know why I have that perception.  But regardless, for us it means teaching Berrik appropriate ways to behave in specific situations.  It’s so interesting to me how some kids instinctively know this and how many do not.  Being home with Berrik has really helped in this regard as I find the best way to teach Berrik is ‘in the moment’ in the context of his real life.  Consistency is the key to this working well, and to be honest, we have never been really great at that.  Now that I’m home, it’s significantly better, so we are working on it as much as we can.  Berrik knows the basics – sharing, being polite, not interrupting (although he has some trouble with this one…all 3 of my kids do for some reason), playing and cooperating with other kids etc. etc.  It’s the nuances that can be challenging (and are equally challenging to teach), but we work on it through talking about how people are feeling based on what they look like, their body language or what they say.  It’s a work in progress, but we are making progress, so that’s what counts.  As an aside, I believe the unstructured time playing with other kids is the best teacher for some of these skills.  Kids are great at letting you know if you’ve said something inappropriate or aren’t following the ‘rules’ of human interaction.  And kids are more likely to express their feelings in a more obvious way, so it’s easy for Berrik to see that his action caused a specific reaction (whether positive or negative).

When I was thinking of a name for this blog, I wanted something that reflected our journey with Berrik, because that is what the blog is predominately about.  I liked the ‘gut feeling’ reference for 2 reasons.  1.  I believe that what we put into our bodies (and therefore our gut) has the most significant impact on our overall health when compared to any other thing we may do; and 2. Every decision we are making has been based mostly on instinct.  I tend to ‘go with my gut’ in most of my life decisions, but especially in parenting.  I have to give credit to Maritza for doing a bunch of research trying to find a domain name with the gut feeling reference, that wasn’t already owned by someone else.  She found it.  I bought it.  And the blog was born.

This brings me to my point.  Nothing is ever really black and white.  Do your homework.  Ask the experts.  Talk to people about what works for them.  Question everything.  And then just GO WITH YOUR GUT.

 

#learningbydoing

This is a hashtag that is trending in our house these days.  I have been doing so much reading about multisensory learning, and in particular have been focusing a lot of kinesthetic and visual learning with Berrik as those two styles of learning seem to be most effective for him (and conversely, are considerably more fun than sitting at a desk and listening to someone speak).  It’s certainly not rocket science in my mind.  In the real world, everything we experience impacts more than one of our senses at the same time.  Seems logical that we might be better at applying our learning if we learn things using more than one sense…  Literature supports this, by the way.  It’s not just me thinking this.  🙂

Sound Connections, the phenomenal Language & Literacy program that we are doing with Berrik, is multisensory at all times.  We ‘use our whole team’ (eyes, mouth, hands/body) for every activity.  Animals jump across lily pads while we learn syllables or we bounce balls, every letter sound has a physical gesture to go with it, as well as a story and a character to which the physical gesture is associated. When we are printing we describe what we are doing and say out loud the sounds we are printing. Sounding out words using ‘onset rime’ is a mini sticks hockey game.  It’s fun.  It’s engaging.  And most importantly, Berrik is learning and is happy doing it.

In my reading, I came across this article called 10 Essential Strategies for Teaching Boys Effectively.  Very useful strategies, many of which I use with Berrik all the time.  But the strategies weren’t what really struck me.  It was the stat that 70% of learning-disabled students nationwide are boys.  Is it just me, or does that stat beg the questions: Are boys actually learning disabled? Or do they just learn differently and our school systems are not set up for the ways in that they learn?  <insert dramatic sigh here>

Frequently, as I reflect on where we have been with Berrik and where we are going, I get emotional about how lucky I am that I have the opportunity to be home with Berrik, to teach him the way he learns, to watch him gain confidence and feel ‘smart,’ and at the same time spend more time with my girls, who need me at least as much as Berrik does, but just in different ways.

I am learning how to incorporate learning into everything we are doing.  We spend very little time sitting at the table doing ‘work’ (although we have to do it from time to time), and a lot of time playing ‘games’ or just noticing the world around us.  We are a busy family and Berrik needs to hear, see and do things more than once, in different contexts, to really internalize the learning, so we don’t waste much time. I am slowly getting better at being creative with incorporating lessons into everything.  Berrik has noticed this and recently said to me in a very serious, grave voice: “Mom, you make everything about learning.  I need to be more vigilant.”  I wouldn’t trade this time with him for anything.  He is a laugh a minute.

 

There are times when I feel frustrated by the negative comments that people make in reference to Berrik (or ‘kids like Berrik’).  Often it’s not even really intended to be negative… but yet it feels offensive.  (I know, I know, I have a bit of mama bear syndrome, and I may be somewhat hypersensitive – having your child assume they are bad or stupid because of what others have said or how others have reacted to them can do that to a mom!)  Berrik sometimes struggles in social situations.  It’s common in kids with attention issues and learning disabilities.  He can be immature for his age at times.  We have friends  who I can ‘feel’ judging him.  If I can feel it, so can he.  That’s hard to manage.   Luckily we have many, many friends who see Berrik for the sensitive, sweet, funny little boy that he is.  We continue to surround ourselves with those people, so that Berrik can see his own gifts reflected in the support and love of those who know how great he is.  The world is a tough place.  I know this.  I know he will need to learn how to manage negativity.  But he’s seven, and darn it, I’m going to do what I can to make sure he grows up confident with a positive self-image.

This brings me to another resource I came across that I love.  As a family, and with the support and encouragement of our family doctor, we have chosen not to use medication to control symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity in Berrik.  He has improved tremendously with other interventions such as diet, supplements, and changing the way we look at learning.  I’m not anti-medication.  But like any parent, we are doing what we feel is best for our son at this moment.  It’s working fine.  Is it easy?  Nope.  But is any parenting?  And would medication be easier?  Nope.  It’s all hard.  I feel like ADHD medication is like vaccines and breastfeeding. So many strong and judgmental opinions on both sides of the issues.  I support parental choice in these matters.  And I super duper do NOT care if you agree with me.  🙂  But I digress….  The resource I mentioned at the beginning of this rather long-winded paragraph is a chapter excerpt called  Strategies to Empower, Not Control, Kids Labelled ADD/ADHD.  This is similar to my feeling that we need not make kids fit the ‘system’ but rather should allow the system to fit the kids.  If kids can’t learn how we teach, then we should teach how they learn.  Etcetera.