from Knoxville, TN

Our adopted daughter was such an “easy” baby and young child.  She had a delightful smile and people naturally gravitated to her.  She never went through the “terrible twos.”  She developed right on schedule.  The first hint of any difficulty was when her first-grade teacher said our daughter had difficulty staying “focused.”  No such comments from her second, third, fourth grade teachers. Her grades were not great, but above average. 

But life changed in a big way when, at ten years old, she began puberty.  She had difficulty maintaining friendships. She'd invite a friend over and within a short period of time, she would become withdrawn and sullen.  Everything irritated her.  Shouting matches over nothing became common.  She complained if you touched her milk glass a certain way. She'd complain that her food was contaminated. She had to sit in a certain seat in the family van; she insisted windows be rolled down, even in winter.  She'd smell odors the rest of us didn't.  Her grades slipped because she couldn't/wouldn't complete her work. She was totally disorganized and often we made her do her schoolwork over two and three times because she'd lose it between the house and school.  She made/lost numerous friends.  She always seemed mad, but couldn't tell you why. She sometimes heard me or others calling her name.  She sometimes saw “shadowy” figures, and one time became hysterical, when she insisted there was someone outside her window who was going to kill her.  When our pediatrician asked her if she had ever thought about killing herself and she responded that she had, indeed, had a fleeting thought of jumping out her two-story window, we knew something had to be done, but what

We took her to a psychologist who performed a $1,000 worth of tests (not covered by insurance) resulting in an ADD (attention deficit disorder) diagnosis.  The pediatrician prescribed a well-known ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) medication, which became the first of many medications we've tried.  We quickly abandoned the first medication after she got mad about something and put her fist through the drywall in her bedroom.  Fortunately, those kinds of outbursts were few and far between, and she's never physically lashed out at anything other than her bedroom wall and closet door. 

Three years later, we're now working with a third psychiatrist and our second therapist.  We still do not have a clear diagnosis. Our daughter has some symptoms of numerous disorders (ADD, OCD, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression), but she doesn't seem to fall clearly into any one diagnosis.  School is much better now that we finally, after it only took me two school years, have her certified for special education. She's in regular academic classes, but has two periods a day in a resource class where they help her with her organizational skills, social skills, etc.  My daughter is an extremely mature-looking and attractive 13 year old who loves to go shopping, play on the computer, hang out with her friends, who still seem to change monthly, etc.  Few people outside the family know the emotional upheaval we've lived with for several years now.  But things are better than they were.  And we're all learning how to cope. 

I'm just amazed that in 2005, how much misinformation and prejudice exists concerning mental illnesses.  If my daughter had diabetes, or cancer, or asthma, or a heart murmur (you fill in the blank), life would be far less complicated than having to fight insurance companies and school districts and even some family members who insist she “snap out of it.”  They'd never tell a diabetic child his/her need for insulin was “all in your head.” Yet my daughter, who has some sort of brain disorder, is held to a different standard because it's her brain, not her liver, or heart, or lung, which doesn't work properly.  I'm relieved to see that mental illness in children is finally coming to the fore.  These children and their families need all of the comfort and support they can get. 

Looking back, what could have been done at the time to improve the situation? Treatment, medication, a different approach, or understanding from others around you?

I wish I had recognized what we were dealing with earlier on.  Of course, I hoped against hope there would be some other explanation for what was happening, but as is often the case, Monday-morning quarterbacking is useless.  I'm fortunate that I have flexibility in my work so that I had the time and resources to pursue numerous doctors appointments, medication appointments, counseling sessions, time to deal with insurance issues, etc. There was a time when it was almost a “full-time job” dealing with my daughter's difficulties.  My heart goes out to other parents who aren't as fortunate.

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