The Man of Steel (and His Supermom) Fight ADHD

Elizabeth McGee and son Hunter work hard to get focused

By Dwain Hebda

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Like all mothers of sons, Elizabeth McGee was prepared for the noise and high-revving engine that little boys generally bring with them into the world. But it didn’t take long to realize that her son Hunter’s behavior went beyond your typical ball of energy.

“I understood that little boys are very active, but this seemed to go above and beyond what I thought was normal activity,” she said. “He had a really hard time listening and paying attention, and would veer off course easily. Something as simple as being asked to get dressed would turn into we’re going to bring five toys to the breakfast table.”

When corrective action such as timeouts and the occasional spanking didn’t help, Elizabeth decided there was something else at work with Hunter, now 5. She confided in one of Hunter’s teachers who suggested he go in for an observation, which she did a year ago. The resulting diagnosis—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—didn’t come as a particular shock to her.

“He was more manageable when it was just the two of us; more manageable at home than in the grocery store, for example,” she said. “But if there was a space to fill up he would physically fill it, verbally fill it, just a constant live wire. “If he were buckled in his carseat he would be fine. Then in class he could be working on one project, but somebody could enter the room and it would totally disrupt what he was doing because he would then sprint over to whatever might seem like more fun, or if there was somebody he wanted to talk to.”

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The diagnosis started a new chapter in Hunter and Elizabeth’s relationship, one that she’s made as personal to her as it is to him. “Our pediatrician, Dr. Sarah Bone, at Arkansas Pediatric Clinic was extremely supportive and provided all the referrals that we needed for our journey. We went through cognitive behavioral therapy at the UAMS Child Study Center,” she said. “The doctors that we worked with were fantastic and it was really about my learning different techniques and ways to more effectively—I don't want to say ‘handle’ him, but work with him on behaviors.

That seems to have really worked well,” Elizabeth said. So well, in fact, that mother and son graduated through all the levels of the course in about six months. Elizabeth would like to say that the behavioral training took the place of medication, but such is not the case.

“The most difficult part [of Hunter’s ADHD] was probably coming to terms with the fact that he probably needed to take medicine, sooner than later,” she said. “I'm interested in mental health and think everyone doing a continuing program of mental health is good, so the learning of that was easy and I'm open and receptive to that.

“The hard part is thinking and feeling—overcoming, I guess— the guilt of putting your child on medication at a young age. I don’t think you should medicate, but if you can’t get through the day and be a part of society? If the behaviors prevent him from being the best that he can be and he needs some help, then it’s really about the child and not about you.”

The decision was made harder by the fact that despite improvements in medications, they are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. “We have tried several medications,” Elizabeth said. “We’re on our fourth medication and it is working a lot better than the first three. The first two he was just an emotional wreck, as in crying and super-sensitive. If somebody in the class looked at him he might burst into tears. We went from that to one just not seeming to work at all,” she said.

 The latest version seems to be working well, but like all ADHD drugs, it comes with the challenge of consistency in taking them. “They’re short-acting medications at his age,” Elizabeth said. “So you administer them every three to four hours during the day.” Elizabeth has also learned certain environmental stimuli affects Hunter, who also has developmental delays, differently than others, even with his medication.

She keeps tabs on these and encourages the flow of information by bringing all affected parties into the loop of his ongoing symptom management. “I involve the physical therapist, occupational therapist and his teacher, all at Access, in regular communication with what we’re doing in therapy or any updates on medicines and whatnot so that we all have a good partnership in looking out for his well-being,” she said. “We’ve stayed in pretty consistent communication with each other on how he was doing, how the medicine was working, what I might try at home, what they might need to try at school.

“The four of us have an open-door policy so we share back and forth and observe back and forth. He’s got a good team looking out for him.”