I'm an Aardvark and I'm Happy
"I'm an aardvark, and I'm proud!
I'm an aardvark, and I'm happy!
I'm an aardvark,
If I try to be specific
And a little scientific,
I am feeling quite terrific!"
After some terrible months of great mood swings, crying without any external reason, and major tantrums my son was smiling. I looked upon it as a damn miracle.
It had taken me years to accept even the remote possibility that I would ever give my son any type of prescribed medication. I have never been one to embrace the use of medication for psychological issues. Perhaps my bias comes from living with my mother for half of my life and seeing the turbulence caused by the never ending barrage of meds she had to take. My mother who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia has been on medication for over fifty years now. They have taken a toll on her physically and mentally. When and if they worked, they didn't work very well. And then there were the side effects. There are always side effects to contend with. For my mother, the medications doped her up until she was too drowsy to function, they messed up her eyesight, and they gave her Tardive Dyskinesia which is defined on the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) as: "...primarily characterized by random movements in the tongue, lips or jaw as well as facial grimacing, movements of arms, legs, fingers and toes, or even swaying movements of the trunk or hips."
And too I grew up seeing my mother going in and out of psychiatrist's offices with very little to show for it except a new prescription. It seemed a revolving door syndrome of giving her the easiest fix. I had always wanted to see her get more help for not just her but for me too. Nobody in the system really seemed to care that this very mentally ill woman was alone and raising a child. Medication alone would not solve the problem and in some cases it seemed to even exacerbate it.
When I got older I went to school in the fields of Psychology, Special Education, and Social Work. I volunteered at the very mental hospital where my mother had been hospitalized many times. I did internships for graduate school and finally was working in the field. I began to see a more global picture of how medication is needed and quite necessary in a lot of cases. I also saw examples of how medication was over used and ended up creating more problems than the person began with. I came to the conclusion that nothing is black and white. Medication is neither a panacea nor is it the root of all evil. Medication is merely one tool in our arsenal to combat mental illness. Doctors make their best educated guesses as to whether a particular medication will work or not.
When my son got diagnosed with Autism at the age of three, I never considered medication for him. I knew of friends who would give medications such as Prozac at a very early age, even as young as three or four years old. I worried about what these drugs could do to a developing mind. I vowed to do everything in my power to help him with as many natural approaches as I could. I used a variety of teaching and therapeutic methods. He has many food allergies so we changed his diet. We used sensory strategies to help with his unique sensory needs. I researched, read books, talked to both experts and friends. I used my own experience as a former instructor for people with special needs to also help guide me. What I found is that all the teaching methods and behavioral strategies could not help everything. Just because a person has autism or a developmental disability does not mean they are immune to mental health issues. As I found out by working in the field of special education, a lot of folks who have one diagnosis may also have another, including mood disorders.
One day when my son woke up crying and seemingly unable to stop, I thought again about medications. I had waited for twelve years and I thought that if there was even a remote possibility that it would help, then I would have him try it. If there were any bad side effects then we would stop. Many of my friends who have children who have autism talked about Prozac being very helpful for their kids. One mom confided that she had been resistant for years and years and then she tried Prozac with her son when he was a teen. She told me she wished she had done it sooner. There is nothing worse than seeing your child suffer. When I felt that I had exhausted most other methods and possibilities, I called a neurologist to see my son.
I had researched Prozac to exhaustion. I went on support group boards and read every post. Prozac is an older drug and there is much written about it. The side effects seemed minimal and it was not too terribly difficult to taper off this drug. Without my speaking of it first, my son's neurologist recommended Prozac. She confirmed all of my research I had found. We would start with a very low dose of half a 10mg pill and then up it to a whole pill. If things didn't work out for whatever reason then we would taper him off of it. Those first days he was on it, I was a mess. I watched for any little sign that it was causing him harm.
When he was about a week and a half into it, he began to sing the Aardvark song for me. And I gave a big sigh of relief. It was working for him. He was no longer crying all the time. He was smiling and enjoying things more. Even some of his phobias were lessening. He wanted to go more places and do more things. My son was feeling happy and of course this made me feel happy.
My son has been taking Prozac for months now and I have seen no great side effects other than he is a little more hyper and silly now. His appetite is good. He is sleeping well. He no longer has tantrums. His phobias have greatly decreased. He is no longer suffering from his moods. It is so good to see him happy. The medication is just a piece of the puzzle, however. My son still has many challenges to overcome. But now that his mood is better, we can tackle those challenges with greater ease.
Thinking that since the Prozac helped my son so much, I thought that maybe I would try it too. And that is the subject for another post. Stay tuned!