That idyllic first session with Victor, where he hunkered down to his homework, resisting the lure of new presents and other distractions, was never to be repeated. By February, I knew him to be a much more complex, endearing and troubled boy than I had glimpsed in our first meeting. I had also grown to love him.
Victor had a lot of anger. He hit himself, called himself terrible names, and threatened to beat me. In his mother’s words “he had seen too much.”
Victor told me a story of a grandparent and uncle suddenly dying and that he had to abandon his dog, which he was now worried would starve. (Shelters don’t allow pets.) Now, Victor is prone to a bit of lying and this might not be accurate, but one clear fact is that he is in a shelter for domestic violence. Plus, little Victor is now the man of his family – the oldest of three children (he has a baby and 3 year old sister) whose mother is in the middle of a divorce and a bit stressed and angry herself.
One day, in an effort to get him excited about something positive, I asked Victor what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“That’s easy,” he replied, “I want to be a cop so I can play with guns.”
“Any other reason you want to be a cop?”
“Nope. I want the guns,” he said, shooting invisible bullets from his finger.
My friend, Kimerer Lamothe, an amazing mother to five children, remarked “I think kids can be excited about guns because they are such powerful release mechanisms. Maybe you can just expose him to other release mechanisms… like drumming or running or something.”
So when Victor got hyper or angry, we would break for five minutes of dancing or cartwheels.
This helped for about 10 minutes.
Victor’s first grade teacher decided that he might have ADHD. Victor’s mother, Maria (not her real name) was upset, didn’t want her son medicated and enlisted my help. I didn’t want to see Victor medicated either and was ready to do what I could to support her.
It’s true that Victor is hyperactive and inattentive, but I can think of plenty of reasons why this is so. Oh let’s see….On school days he wakes up at 5 am, takes a two hour bus ride, sits in school all day, takes a two hour bus ride back to his shelter, shovels down a snack and sometimes turns around 10 minutes later to have his session with me (or his therapist), while listening to kids play in the fenced-in courtyard outside. On days that we can’t use the children’s room, we do his homework at the dining room table in a public area where kids regularly ask him when he is going to be done. There is frequently a tug of war for his attention.
But shouldn’t someone try to address the problems caused by his living conditions before diagnosing him with a mental condition that requires medicating a seven year old?
Sadly, no. A doctor confirmed the teacher’s evaluation and Victor was diagnosed with ADHD. His mother, when faced with the doctor’s pronouncement, acquiesced immediately. A few weeks after his 7th birthday, Victor was given speed — I mean Adderall, an amphetamine given to children to treat ADHD.
Now I was angry.
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