When the psychiatrist first gave us the list of diagnoses, I was a little stunned.
“You see four different diagnoses here, just in one day’s time?”
“Well, yes. Based on his history and everything we have seen, it’s clear. The good news is, now that we know, we can treat these conditions. Let’s make a list of which ones are the most concerning. We will start there and then go down the list.”
Bipolar Disorder – “We have excellent medications for it.”
Anxiety Disorder – “After he is stable on the first drug, we will layer in one for his anxiety.”
ADHD – “Finally, he will need a stimulant to be able to focus.”
I left the office conflicted. I was encouraged that the doctor felt so confident that medicines would help my son, but deep down, I was worried.
Three brain altering medicines all at once? At ten years old?
On the next visit, I expressed my concerns.
The doctor reassured me that this is the treatment plan for these types of disorders.
“It’s the plan that will work. I’ve seen so many children helped. You need to try.”
And so, we did.
At least the first rung of medicines.
But the more medications we tried, the worse it became.
And with each passing prescription, the doctor’s tone changed.
“Well, he is a complicated child.”
“Maybe if he was in a school environment he would be more stable.”
“Although the last four prescriptions did not work, I am confident that we will find something that will.”
Finding A Treatment Plan That Works
Please hear me when I say that I am not against medication for children that struggle with neurological differences and mental illness. In fact, my oldest son has been on a low dose of an SSRI for almost three years now. It has changed his life.
Medication certainly has its place in our children’s treatment plans.
But, when it comes to mental illness, my experience has been that there is a bias towards medicating first, and without question.
For some children, I am certain it helps.
For my son, it hasn’t.
And so, out of pure desperation, we have started to create our own treatment plan.
It includes as many different approaches to mental health as possible. He is still on one medication that helps a little, like taking the edge off.
But the rest is all trial and error, research, and finding the people who are willing to help us tailor an approach that makes sense for our son and our family.
Developing Our Own Treatment Plan
Medication in Moderation
As I said, my son is currently on a medication to help manage his mood dysregulation and anxiety. It is not a cure by any means. It does help him cope, particularly on tough days and is certainly part of his treatment plan.
However, I am now getting a second opinion before even considering additional prescriptions. The side effects and possible drug interactions are significant and potentially dangerous. My son ended up in the hospital last year with liver and thyroid issues due to one medicine’s side effects. Getting a second opinion, from another, independent doctor has helped me feel more empowered to say no to my son’s psychiatrist, when necessary.
Because my son’s body and mind feel out of control almost all the time, providing a structured routine each day helps him feel like something is dependable and constant. This has made a significant difference in his ability to cope and manage, but it is also very difficult to maintain.
I am still working through the difficulties in staying consistent (My issues, not his – sometimes I just don’t want to start the day by taking a walk. I’m tired and want coffee!) but I cannot deny the powerful effect of a dependable structure to our days.
Because my son is now eleven years old, traditional therapies like OT and PT are a struggle. Our experience has been they are either geared towards much younger children, or adults. Finding something in between, to help with his sensory issues and anxiety management, has been pure trial and error.
The good news is, once I made the decision to stop trying to make the typical gyms work, and just focused on his needs, we easily found solutions for therapeutic resources.
A local farm has a horseback riding program. It is not technically equine therapy, but after speaking with the owner, I learned one of the gals that works for her is studying to be a special education teacher. She is our new “therapist”. I stay for the sessions, and she and I talk about different things for my son to try. He cleans the horses hooves, brushes them, bathes them, and then has a standard horseback riding lesson.
It’s made a tremendous difference in his ability to regulate (similar to what we found when my oldest son was in OT). The bonus is that we pay for the entire month of horse care and riding, what we used to pay for one session of OT.
The same is true for “art therapy.” There is a local pottery painting business that also offers ceramics classes. After speaking with the owner and explaining our needs, she and I were able to work out a monthly program for my son. She loves that we are there during times when business is slow (Perfect for us – less noise and distraction) and we love that my son is able to participate in hands-on art classes that help ease his anxiety. He is also learning patience and how to manage his own perfectionism.
The key to both of these options has been just asking. I have found that the right business owner can be a wonderful ally in helping my son.
Lots of Exercise and Time in Nature
I cannot stress the importance of this for my son.
The more he moves his body the better he feels. The more he “gets out into the wild” as he calls it, the more regulated he becomes. There is something innately calming about nature for my son. Being intentional about including it as part of his “treatment plan” is making our days easier and his life happier.
Plus, I kinda like it too.
Developing our own treatment plan has not been easy, but it has been worth it. My son has made more progress in the last two months, than he did in the six months prior.
Although I am sharing this to help encourage you that it is OK to do things a little differently, please know, this is just what works for my son. Your treatment plan will likely be totally different.
Our children are not diagnoses, they are individuals. A treatment plan should necessarily be different from one child to the next.
Sometimes, out-of-the-box kids simply require an out-of-the box approach. I have found this to be true in parenting and in education.
It is just as true for treatment plans and therapies.