When Blake was a baby and toddler he was a very active kid and always full of life. He would giggle all the time and had a real zest for life. As he reached school age, though, I began noticing that he had a hard time concentrating or focusing, and would get distracted easily. It was the summer between kindergarten and first grade when he was first diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed stimulant medications.
At first, I resisted putting him on medication because it just didn’t feel right, but the psychiatrist was very convincing and I put my trust in him. The psychiatrist presented very persuasive studies showing that if Blake was not medicated there was a high risk (almost guaranteed really) of teenage delinquency, drug/ alcohol abuse, high school dropout, teen pregnancy and failure to be a productive member of society. His scare tactic worked and I choose to “do the right thing” and medicate my child.
During the first year, we tried so many different medications to try and get one that “worked” for him. They all had nasty side effects that required more medication to treat them. It was a vicious cycle. One of the worst side effects was the appetite suppression. He would barely eat anything; if I could get him to eat once a day, I was thrilled. He was losing weight and his checks were starting to look sunken.
Another awful side effect was sleeplessness. He would sometimes be up until 3 or 4 in the morning even with the addition of medication to help him sleep.
When Blake was in second grade, he had a short period when we tried a non-stimulant medication that because there were supposed to be less side effects compared to the stimulant medications. Within the first week it made him hallucinate while at school. He said that he saw blood pouring out of the school doors and the kids were zombies. It was pretty traumatic for him. He wasn’t allowed to return to school without a psychiatric evaluation. Of course we took him off that medication quickly, but it took its toll on him.
Shortly after that incident, he began hyperventilating all the time. At first his doctor said it was anxiety so he was put on anti-depressants. When that didn’t help they thought it was tics and he had developed Tourette’s Syndrome. Another medication was introduced for the tics.
Then, in fourth grade he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. By this time his diagnoses included: ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Tourette’s Syndrome and anxiety disorder. The lists of medications he was prescribed was long and it didn’t feel right to me, but I didn’t know any other way to help him, and the doctors made me believe this was the only way.
That was the year I took him to see a pediatric neurologist to see if the hyperventilating were possibly seizures and also to see if he had any neurological problems that would explain what he was going through. They were very thorough and did an extensive blood work up, CT scan and EKG. After all of the testing they did, the results came back that the hyperventilation was either anxiety or related to the Tourettes not seizures, which I thought was wonderful news. The pediatric neurologist thought we could more aggressively treat the Tourette’s so Blake was put him on an anti-psychotic medication that was supposed to be really helpful for tics.
At first I was so excited! Things were finally “clicking” in his brain, so I thought this medication was working. And he was finally eating again so I just let him eat everything and anything! He began to gain weight, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that his weight gain wasn’t slowing down, and he would never feel full. In the 4 months he was on this medication he gained about 25lbs! I was very concerned.
Around that time, I had watched a Dateline episode that talked about this medication and its effects on boys. They were finding that it raises the female hormones and was causing boys to develop breasts and some even had to have mastectomies! I immediately contacted his doctor to get him off of it. This was a difficult decision because something was finally clicking in his brain, but I was terrified of what it was doing to his body.
This was when I started questioning if any of these medications were doing him any good. I wasn’t seeing any positive results, other than him being able to focus in school, and the list of problems that the medications caused was growing.
I started seeing a psychologist to help me cope, I felt like I was killing my child and there were no alternatives. She introduced me to a radio show called “Dishing up Nutrition”. It’s a local Saturday morning radio talk show that addresses all types of nutrition related subjects. The first episode I listened to was about ADHD and I thought, “YES! There is another way!” and I finally felt hopeful again! They talked about such things as eating protein and healthy fats for brain function, giving up gluten and casein for allergies and balancing blood sugar. These were things that seemed so simple why not give it a try.
Slowly, I began implementing the things they were teaching and I started to see results, so we began the slow process of weaning him off the medications. I also made an appointment for Blake to see Wendy Cates-Dancer, one of the nutritionists at Nutritional Weight and Wellness. Words cannot explain how much gratitude I have for her. She has turned out to be godsend and I consider her Blake’s angel who gave us light along this dark path. With her help we have implemented dietary changes and added nutritional supplements to help Blake heal both in brain and in body.
It was during this time that, in desperation, I reached out for help from a mother of a one of Blake’s schoolmates. She introduced me to an occupational therapy clinic, Metro Therapy, that specializes in kids with sensory processing disorders, where Blake began seeing an OT and speech therapist outside of school .
While Blake was on the medications he had extreme sensory issues, the biggest one being the way clothes fit. For about 3 years he would only wear white Hanes tank tops and sweatpants. His OT therapist explained that his brain was “scrambled” and unable to filter out the sensations on his skin. They used a brushing technique, along with other techniques, to help. He no longer has this sensory processing problem! I don’t fully understand exactly how this therapy works but the way I understand it is that is helps to reorganize the brain, and to this day he still sees the occupational therapist once a week for other sensory processing issues that he is still working on.
For Blake, the combination of food and occupational therapy has helped him on his journey to heal his brain and body. Today he is 13 years old and likes to eat healthy foods because he knows how good they make him feel and they give him the ability to think and focus. I realize a school report card is a small piece in the puzzle but it is tangible evidence of his progress, and I am so proud to report that this school year he is getting A’s in all of his classes and has good social interaction.
It has been almost 3 years since Blake started on his Nourishing Journey, and he still has a long road ahead of him, but I am amazed every single day to see how far he has come. It hasn’t been easy, especially trying to get a chicken-nugget- mac-and-cheese kid to try new foods. But slowly, and after much persistence, he came around and now is usually happy to try new foods knowing that they are good for him. I am so proud of how hard he has worked for this.
My hope is that, with all of what Blake has gone through, maybe something on his Nourishing Journey can help someone else. Whether it starts them on their own Nourishing Journey, or prevents the overuse of medication on a child, or just makes us stop and think about what we put in our bodies and how it affects us.
Thank you for hearing his story.