Thursday, April 7, 2011

Food & Homeschool: How I became one of "those" parents. Part 1

Those of you who know me know I am not really very mainstream when it comes to the food I feed my family. My path to food activism came through a desire to not see my oldest son suffer at school from the effects of the massive amounts of stimulants his teachers insisted he needed to function in class. Jordan was highly distractible, prone to making weird noises at inappropriate times, and wasn't really interested in sitting there doing busywork. They complained and complained about him, bruising my pride in the process, and making me feel like a failure for not being able to rein him in. I didn't really get it, in Kindergarten his teacher had given him glowing reviews, praising him and us for his abilities and behavior. Then we moved to a different school district. This one was supposedly "better," whatever that means. Within six months his teacher was on an extended maternity leave and a person who was not even a teacher was teaching his first grade class. Her mother was the Title I "teacher" at the school. All of the sudden our brilliant, well behaved child was a problem child. We were told he was highly distractible, prone to making weird sounds at inappropriate times, and that the other kids were not relating well to him.  This person actually asked me if I wanted my kid to be one of " 'those' kids" as this was a very small school district and the kids in his class would always be in his class. I felt like a loser parent, like there was something I had done wrong in loving and raising my sweet boy. I had some serious anger issues over it and hurt his feelings time after time. We tried every "plan" the school came up with: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, working on 1st  grade homework for hours. All we ended up with was a very sad 6 year old.  I took him to a psychologist who tested him and told us he had a genius IQ, but that he was distractible and might benefit from pharmaceuticals for ADD. He started on the stimulants in second grade. Ritalin, Concerta, Strattera, Adderall, he took them all at one time or another. They increased his dosage every month we went back. At the time he weighed only 45 pounds. He never gained weight for the 2 years he was on stimulants. He went from a vibrant, beautiful child to a skeleton; a ghost. His eyes were sunken and there were dark shadows around them. His hair was dry and falling out. He never slept. When I addressed this with the psychiatrist his answer was just to up the dose of stimulant and concurrently up the dose of Phenergan we were giving him at night. A normal adult will be knocked out by 15-25 mg of Phenergan. I finally drew the line when the psychiatrist thought nothing of telling me to give my 45 pound 8 year old 100 mg of Phenergan every night and didn't seem concerned at all that he had not gained any weight over the course of 2 years.

I had been doing some research online because I knew I could not continue to do this to my child to make it convenient for the school. I read some out there theories, but the one that stuck with me came from the Feingold Association. The Feingold Association claims that in some children symptoms of ADD/ADHD are caused by a reaction to salicylates, artificial colors, artificial flavors, sodium benzoate, and the petroleum-based preservatives BHA, BHT, and TBHQ. This assertion is backed up by an extensive list of studies. After discussing it with my husband, we decided to go ahead and try the Feingold diet. I threw away almost every single thing in my kitchen. I got rid of hundreds of dollars worth of groceries and bought NEW groceries following the Feingold plan. At the time, many of the items that were acceptable on the Foodlist were not locally available. The health food stores in our area were sadly lacking. It was incredibly hard, but we made it through Stage One, and it was like we had a brand new child. He was still prone to making weird noises at inappropriate times, we've found that's more his sense of humor than a psychological phenomena requiring pharmaceuticals. His attention span was better, not the BEST, but better than it had been on stimulants. His teacher that year in 3rd grade was wonderful, exactly what he needed. She was very stern, but loving and supportive of our treatment plan. She believed in it because she actually saw it work. That year was hard. Really hard because almost everything had to be made by scratch. Jordan couldn't eat school lunch, he couldn't eat anything at school. He couldn't spend the night at a friend's house or even at his grandparents' house easily. He never really argued over the food. Other people did. Milk is milk, right? Wrong. Most milk you can buy at the store in Michigan contains a preservative in the Vitamin A Palmitate that is added to it that would set Jordan back a week. We were driving 45 miles one way to the closest Whole Foods Market to buy groceries and those groceries didn't come cheaply. One day in 4th grade Jordan came home literally bouncing off the walls like he was crazy. I asked him, "What did you eat?!" He had to think for a long time and finally he remembered that the snack in his after-school program had been a prepackaged Kellog's Rice Krispie Treat. That was the most dramatic thing that sold me on this plan. It was amazing to see. Scary, but amazing at the same time. 

At the end of 4th grade we parted ways with Jordan's school. It was time for him to move to the other school, the middle school, with a different teacher for every subject and a vastly larger set of people to educate and convince not to feed my son food that would set him off. We put him in a local charter academy and he did well for the first year he was there. By the second year we were tiring of the food prep and of fighting the system to get good, healthy food for him. The support structure just wasn't there and we started slipping, buying what was on sale locally or what we had a coupon for or just what we had been missing for so long. Jordan's attention span went right with our backslide. In sixth grade he was spending the entire day at school but not really paying enough attention to "get" it. I spent the evening reteaching the lessons and making sure he got his schoolwork done. It was never done before 10 pm.  He would take it back to school and invariably forget it in his locker. This school was big on personal accountability, and there's nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, it was affecting his grades in a big way. My kid with the genius IQ was getting horrible grades. At some point we all realized that he was not having the childhood that a 11 year old should get. He was literally stuck with schoolwork from 8:00 am until at least 10:00 pm, when I would make him go to bed. We had talked about homeschooling. Usually it was a threat, as I didn't figure `an 11 year old would want to be home with Mom all day. Eventually he came to me and told me that he wasn't getting graded on what he knew, he was getting graded on his level of organization and responsibility. If they were going to assign grades based on those things he thought they should call the classes, "Organization and Responsibility." He asked me if he could be home schooled. I made him finish out the year at school because that was a huge step for me and I wasn't at all ready to take on educating a child at home.                                         

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