Making the best decisions for Benji
Updated: Jun 2, 2019
Benji is a 6 year old boy diagnosed with ADHD. When he started school he developed anxiety to the point where he was doing all his learning from a school office. His Mom Caroline tells us how changing centres made him not only adjust to school learning but thrive in it.
- When and how did you start suspecting that Benji had ADHD?
Benji was a very difficult baby. He was difficult to settle, cried a lot and seemed to need constant stimulation. He was always happiest when he was out and about. As he was our second child we had some point of comparison and I always felt Benji was significantly different. In what manner, I wasn’t entirely sure. I think I often put it down to being very ‘strong-willed’. When he started at preschool we received daily reports of him hurting other kids or being generally disruptive. When his elder brother started school we moved Benji to a different preschool; a quiet environment with a small group of children. After an adjustment period Benji settled fairly well there.
At his ‘Before School Check’ with Plunket when he turned 4 years old, we raised our concerns about behaviour and were quickly connected with an Early Intervention Teacher. It was at this stage, prior to our first meeting with a Starship (Auckland's Children Hospital) Paediatrician that occurred to me that maybe Benji did have ADHD. I didn’t know a lot about it, but a quick google search revealed a list of ADHD symptoms and it read like a description of Benji.
- Could you tell us more about your journey towards having Benji diagnosed? Was it difficult to get the proper medication for him?
We met with a Paediatrician at Starship when Benji was 4 and he provided a ‘probable’ diagnosis based on surveys completed by his preschool teacher and by us. He also asked us a number of questions. ADHD is not diagnosed until a child was 5. We were assigned a more senior Paediatrician when Benji turned 5 and was quickly able to confirm the diagnosis and offer suggestions for medication. He is now described by his Paediatrician as ‘severely ADHD’. We’ve trialled different medications with him and they’ve all made a massive difference. It’s just been a case of tweaking dosages, timing, etc.
- When Benji was 5 years old he started school. How was that experience? Why did you decide to change schools after some months?
Benji started school at a large public school (750 students) which had open-plan classrooms. He was very unhappy about attending school and developed anxiety, which snow-balled. Benji’s anxiety presented as very poor behaviour. He started to lash out at students and teachers and would pace angrily outside the classroom. He was simply too anxious to participate in any class activities, despite intervention from a SENCO (Special Education Needs Coordinator), dedicated Teacher Aide, RTLB (Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour) and Child Psychologist. We quickly dropped his attendance to half-days, but he was unable to cope with even a short time at school. He became so withdrawn that he was provided office space to do is learning and was too scared to go outside at break times. It became very apparent that no amount of support and intervention was going to help him adjust to such a large, noisy, busy environment.
- In what ways has the new school been better for Benji? What changes have you seen in him?
Benji has made slow, but significant progress since he started at his new school. His first teacher ‘took him under her wing’ and ensured that he was always by her side and constantly supported. He was given endless positive feedback and reassurance. Benji has really benefited from the small size of the school, the laid-back atmosphere, the beautiful natural surrounds and the happy learning environment. Single-cell classrooms and small class sizes have suited him well. His anxieties have slowly reduced and he has gone from being a disruptive, non-participative child, to a learner and contributor. His teacher tells me that he’s ‘just part of the class’, which is such significant progress (it melts my heart!!) With a reduction in anxiety, he’s been able to make friendships and this also has boosted his confidence.
- If Benji has a preference for either school, how has he expressed this?
As Benji has a vast vocabulary, he has expressed his preference for the new school in many different ways! He says that his new school is better because the other one was, “Too noisy. Too hard to concentrate. Too many kids and not very fun.” He also wrote a story in his writing book that says, “I love my school. It’s just perfect.”
- Could you explain, as a Mother, what you would recommend to other Moms who may be going through the same journey?
CALL IN THE EXPERTS. In terms of support, I think we were probably lucky in many respects, as we were assigned a very proactive Early Intervention Teacher at an early stage. She coordinated a team of people around us and that’s vital. You need to get the experts involved. There is public support available, but you need to ask for it. You’ve really got to become an advocate for your child.
STRESS RELIEF. When Benji wasn’t settling to school, it was a constant worry for my husband and I. I would receive phone calls from the school nearly every other-day, so I’d always be on high-alert. His behaviour at home was also very difficult as he was under an extreme amount of stress. It was also a highly stressful time for my husband and I. On reflection I think we should have allowed ourselves more respite time, more time to de-stress ourselves. We spent a lot of time ensuring Benji was getting the relaxation he needed; baths, quiet space, stories, etc, but maybe we didn’t allow ourselves enough of that relaxation time, also.
GETTING THE RIGHT EXPERTISE. The best investment we’ve made was engaging an “Educational Psychologist” to provide a cognitive and educational assessment for Benji. We did this when Benji turned 6 and it’s provided us a really comprehensive understanding of how he learns. We feel like we understand him so much better now. It was well worth-while!
BE PATIENT. It was over a year before Benji was able to attend school for full-days. It’s been a very gradual process and has required a lot of patience. It’s always difficult not knowing how long you’re going to be stuck in a phase, but you have to back yourself that you’re doing the right things for your child and eventually things are going to get easier (for you and them).
DON’T HAVE PRECONCEIVED IDEAS ABOUT MEDICATION. If you are receiving medical advice that it could assist your child, be prepared to consider it. ADHD medication is in your system, and then out. There is no harm in trialling it. It makes such a significant difference to Benji’s ability to concentrate that he is happy to take it.
ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE POSITIVES. ADHDers have amazing personalities! Typically highly functioning, massively creative with big personalities. Enjoy the good bits. It’s so easy to get bogged down with the harder aspects.