The other night someone made a comment on of my posts that really got me thinking. Well actually, I had already been thinking about this already, but the comment kind forced me to REALLY start thinking if you know what I mean.
You can read the comment here, Comment by Sarah
Now, when we first put our son on Risperdal, it was a really difficult decision based on recommendations from two different specialists in two different fields, but both with experience and knowledge about behavioural problems and medication. We always intended for it to be for a relatively short term and at a low dose. The benefits of the medication could not be denied. The difference in our son was enormous. He was calmer, less aggressive and better able to function. With him being able to stop and process better, we had a much better chance for any behavioural therapies to work.
He went along improving faster than he ever had before for about 6 months before we started to notice that we were getting a little frustrated again and having to tell him to calm down more than we were used to now. It was a gradual increase and it took us a while to realise that the ‘problem’ may have been that he had grown and needed a slightly higher dose of Risperdal. The Ritalin was still working well for concentration. So, with the Pead’s consent, we upped the dose a little. Now he is on 1.25ml of the medication. Still a very low dose. His behaviour started improving again, and we were able to ramp up all the good stuff were doing with him.
In the last two weeks, as I mentioned in my previous post, we started noticing some of his anxious behaviours coming back again. He was covering his ears when buses passed us while out riding bikes and walking. He would actually stop his bike and pull it away against the opposite side from the road to cover his ears until the bus had passed. This never really bothered him before. He was also starting up with his aggressive threats and angry behaviour for no real reason. His arguing had increased and he was avoiding school work vehemently again.
Now, there could have been a couple of other factors involved in this change of behaviour. Not just his growth and need of another higher dose of medication. He had desperately wanted a particular toy, so, (despite what I have written about ‘reward’ charts) I set up a chart that ran for two weeks. It was based around him completing each day; certain helpful things around the house. He had to do his morning jobs without being asked twice (eat breakfast, take Ritalin, feed the animals). He had to complete his school work without complaining and causing Mummy to waste a lot of time getting him to do it. He had to do one helpful job like empty the dishwasher, take the rubbish out etc. He did this. Every day for two weeks, he was simply awesome. He really worked hard to do all those things.
We also made it very clear that once he had the toy, he had to continue that behaviour, that the chart was merely a way to get him into the habit of doing all those things, and that we wouldn’t be giving him a toy for doing those jobs in the future. He understood and agreed. He got the toy, and his behaviour started going down hill. It could have been coincidence or it might have had something to do with the getting of the toy.
The weather has been sucky for a couple of weeks, that sometimes affects his sleep and general mood. There is also our parenting techniques, we slip a little when he’s behaving ‘normally’ for lengthy periods. We forget to watch what we say, to speak in a kind nice way all the time. It’s only human because that style is really hard to keep up all the time especially when you are tired or annoyed yourself. There are a few more things, but the point is, I guess there are factors other than medication that affect his behaviour.
First thing I started doing was double checking the basics. We got back on track with our parenting techniques. I made sure we hadn’t let too many chemicals or preservatives back into his diet, even though we know that he doesn’t have any intolerances or allergies to stuff. We were fine in that department. I was pleased to see that my cupboards and fridge were still in keeping with the most chemical free food we could have. I even went back to the Fail Safe people’s website and checked their recommended shopping list, and found that I have pretty much everything suggested, and some things from their list I don’t buy because they aren’t necessary in his diet, or I make it fresh myself. So all good there.
So that means we were back to the fact that he’s grown heaps in the last 4 months, and must need a bigger dose of the medication. We were just discussing increasing that dose when Sarah’s comment came through. It made me do more research again on Risperdal, or any antipsychotic. That in turn made my discomfort about these medications’ long term results return.
I started to think, am I willing to keep increasing the dose of this medication every time he grows or his behaviours come back? Does that make logical sense to me? I decided not really. I had worked out that if you smack a child and the behaviours come back, you don’t simply increase the intensity of the smack. If you keep telling a child not to do something, or you remove privileges and the behaviours come back, you don’t just increase the dose of those things. So, maybe it’s the same with medication. If I have to keep increasing the dose, doesn’t that mean that actually the medication is not really doing anything helpful long term? It’s simply keeping the situation/symptoms under control in the short term. It also makes us not know how much better or worse he really is without that medication. So the only conclusion down that road is a life time on this medication at higher and higher doses, which only increases the risk of side effects.
I don’t think I want to do that to be honest. So after much discussion with my husband, we thought we had decided to slowly start weaning him off the medication in the next 6 months. I felt better about that decision, even though I knew it was going to be harder work for us as parents.
Then on Friday I took my son to Occupational therapy. He had a really awesome play with the other boy, then started to feel uncomfortable at the end and wanted to control the game. It didn’t go his way and he got really mad. The session ended because he just walked out and the therapist came to tell the two waiting mums how it had gone. While we sat talking, my son went outside, then came back in with his metal drink bottle and swung it full pelt at the therapists head! She blocked it and caught his arm calmly and continued to name his feelings for him and calmly state that she could see he was mad but that she couldn’t allow him to hurt her. I took over and restrained him gently over with me. He started head butting me repeatedly, and I managed to avoid most of them except one that caught me on the side of the chin and bruised my jaw joint. Ouch.
After that, I was thinking, “ugh, we can’t be having all that fighting again! It’s too much hard work!” Back to putting the medication dose up!
Then after he had calmed down, which took only about 15 minutes, we went home. He put himself in the back seat of the car again, and all his furry toys in the front. (Punishing himself). He was quiet for a little while and then apologised to me for hurting my jaw. (I had remained silent this whole time… not only because my jaw hurt!). Then he started saying things that he could have done instead of getting so angry and trying to hurt people.
So, by the time my husband got home from work, I was back to the conclusion that we should reduce and remove the medication because although it’s a long hard process, we were already on the right track before we started the medication. We had started fixing our parenting and our family dynamic and we were already seeing huge improvements in his behaviours. Yes, he had had a full blown aggressive outburst, but he had calmed himself down and then actually thought about it later to find a solution to try next time. Now that doesn’t mean he’ll actually apply that solution next time. He may still lose it when it gets too much for him. But I’m seriously impressed that he actually wants to change it and thought of a way to make that happen. He’s getting closer.
We have an appointment with his Peadiatrician (Michael Kohn from the ABC documentary “Kids on Speed?”) on Tuesday, and I know he will probably try to persuade me against dropping the medication especially since it made such a positive change in his behaviour. I definitely think my son still needs Ritalin at the moment to concentrate on school work and keep his body in check, but that may change in the future.
I guess the important thing is for me to keep an open mind and remember that while I really hate this medication, the thing I need to keep at the front of my thoughts is what will be best for my son in the long term. If medicating him for another year so he can benefit from our parent assisted therapy and that of his psychologist and get more social practice, is the best thing, then that’s really what we should do before weaning him off.
Either way, it’s going to be a hard decision and not one to jump into either way lightly. I hate having to make these hard decisions and sometimes it just makes me tired and want to eat cupcakes! Better go and make some…..