Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life, where it concerns my son, Ricochet, and his ADHD. He had a violent meltdown on the way to school. That has happened a few times in our recent past, but yesterday the school refused to help, and I was completely [more…]lost.

School avoidance began for Ricochet back in 3rd grade. It started with making himself vomit at school so they would send him home. Once we were on to his devious strategy, the behavior no longer resulted in going home early. He stopped making himself physically sick, but constantly talked about feeling nauseous or lied that he threw up. He still does this, over three years later.

Fast forward two years, to his second fourth grade year (he was held back for social and executive functioning reasons for fourth grade). We had been doing pretty well in Ricochet’s new school that year, until an ordinary day in December became anything but. I pulled up to the curb for drop-off as normal. Ricochet got out as normal. I pulled forward a few car lengths to file out and suddenly heard a child screaming in sheer panic. I looked up in my rear view mirror to see Ricochet running right through traffic chasing after my car and crying. I never got him into school that day, got him to the classroom door before a full-blown meltdown the next day, then had to walk him inside another week, until he was finally back to the regular drop-off routine. (You can read this story in much more detail in Boy Without Instructions). We never figured out the trigger for this surprising behavior.

Despite this routine remaining “normal” for the rest of the school year, I had PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I had a physical reaction to dread and fear every single morning I approached the curb for drop-off. My hands would tingle, my body felt flush, my heart raced, and my thoughts were a jumbled mess of reliving that awful day he ran in front of moving cars to chase after me. Over a year later, I still hesitate at the curb and wait until he’s walked a good bit toward the door before I turn away.

But now, I have new PTSD on top of the old PTSD. I think that fact in and of itself may cause even more PTSD attacks. {sigh.}

Ricochet began having trouble going into school again in January. It seemed to be a heightened and obsessive fear of all things that might go wrong. He was afraid Daddy would get hurt at work again. He was afraid the danger of meeting strangers at houses for work might catch up to me. He was afraid someone might open fire at school. He was afraid he’d never see his family again. You name it, he voiced grave concern about it. It was so severe, that I physically couldn’t get him into the school building. He would have dramatic meltdowns at the thought of going.

After a few of these episodes and missing several days of school over it, I finally put two and two together and realized the one common denominator between the experience last year and this year, was a secondary medication he was taking to help his stimulant remain effective. It looked like that medication was building up in his system to a toxic level. A few days before this revelation though, his doctor added Prozac to try to address the anxiety, despite Ricochet trying two SSRIs prior with significant behavioral side effects.

At first, he seemed to tolerate the Prozac well. We started on half the lowest dose for three weeks, then increased to the full lowest dose. A week into that second dosage, Ricochet woke up one morning with severe suicidal ideation. His doctor recommended going back down to the half dosage. Two days into that, Ricochet had a violent meltdown that looked eerily similar to a seizure. We discontinued the Prozac that day, but he kept having rage episodes — eight or nine in the following few days. I researched obsessively to find that it could be withdrawal from the Prozac. That was certainly the only explanation that made sense. My kind, sweet little boy had never had rages before. Never.

Now, the rages were keeping him from going to school, rearing on the drive there many mornings. His absences were racking up and I worked harder to get him into the school building. One morning, I finally got him inside to talk with the guidance counselor about his school troubles and promised to stay with him until he felt secure. He told me at least five times each and every minute that he was not staying at school, that I couldn’t make him. The counselor was away in a meeting and talking with the principal seemed to help, until we exited her office and Ricochet proceeded to keep walking, right out the front door of the school. I persuaded him to come back in and we would hang out in his special ed teacher’s classroom for a while.

He continued to continually tell me he wasn’t staying for the hour we sought refuge in her classroom. Eventually though, the counselor emerged from her meeting and brought the principal and vice-principal down to see Ricochet and I. They told him they were going to all work together to resolve his worries and make him more comfortable at school, and that it was time for me to leave. We’ve been telling him we’re working on making him more comfortable at school for years now, but I’ve never had success in making it happen. He didn’t believe that song and dance.

I rose from my chair to leave and a violent meltdown immediately erupted. I had to leave the room while my son was screaming and kicking and being restrained by administration. Tears filled my eyes as I listened to his screams echo down the corridors, despite being behind closed doors. They worked with him and he eventually calmed and successful completed the remainder of the school day.

I swiftly received a request for conference from the school social worker. I was told Ricochet has to come to school and that we would form a safety plan to get him inside safely when he was resistant. The plan was that I would ask administration for help and they would take him into the building and let him melt down in an empty conference room where he couldn’t hurt anyone. Ricochet was brought into the meeting and the plan was explained to him. That was a Friday afternoon. The following morning, he was raging on the way to school and refused to go in. I asked administrators for help, as I was instructed. They came out and it took us 20 minutes just to pull Ricochet out of my car. Then he proceeded to punch, kick, and scream as the vice-principal restrained him. I was asked to drive away. I did so and cried uncontrollably for three hours. How could this be my sweet boy? Why did he have to go through this? Why had things changed? What was going on?

His doctor discontinued all medications except the stimulant he’d been on for nearly a year. Ricochet began to come out of the funk, but still got stuck in aggressive anger fits at times, once or twice a week that first week after the change. The second week, last week, was Spring Break and Ricochet did well. Only one aggressive episode. I felt like the medication was definitely the culprit and that I was getting my sweet boy back.

Then, yesterday came and sent me spiraling into a dark and hopeless despair. Once again, Ricochet was raging in the car on the way to school, throwing things at me while driving and trying to break his window to escape. I pulled up to the curb, rolled down my window, and told the principal I needed help. That was the plan she put in place. She bent down and peered into the car to find Ricochet punching me and screaming. She said, “No, we’re not going to do that anymore.” I was lost. “What do you want me to do then?” I asked.

She instructed me to park and wait it out or take him home, and then bring him into school only when he was calm and I could get him inside willingly and by myself. That wasn’t going to happen. I parked in an effort to force him to go inside at some point. He cried for over an hour and told me that lots of kids were making fun of him and telling him to go away now and every moment at school he feels like “nobody.” My heart shattered. Combine naturally mean kids in fifth grade with a kid who’s extremely immature and obviously different, and this is what you get. But what is the alternative? We cannot homeschool.

I had to take him home yesterday — he just couldn’t get over it. That was his 13th absence, the last allowable absence before mandatory summer school for attendance issues. I swiftly shot off an email to teachers, counselor, school administrators, and the director of special education for our county asking what they wanted me to do now. The administration’s answer was another meeting to discuss and modify the safety plan. My response was that we would wait for the director of special education to advise us on how to help a child with social issues and poor emotional regulation to feel comfortable at school. Until he feels comfortable behind those walls, no amount of modification to the safety plan is going to have a positive effect.

As I drove Ricochet to school this morning, my heart began to race and I felt nauseous as we encountered the last mile. I was terrified a repeat of the day before was imminent. It was hard to breathe. I tried to talk myself down, but it was no use. I was going to feel physically sick until he got out of my car and walked toward the school entrance without incident. Darn PTSD.

And that’s exactly what Ricochet did. He hopped out of the car, blew me a kiss, and turned and walked toward the door. Happy as a clam. I pulled away slowly, anxiously, and then let out an audible sigh of relief once I knew I was home free… at least for today.

But I remain perplexed. How can something be so upsetting to him to cause rages one day, then completely off his radar the next? It’s not bipolar, so what is it? Puberty? Lingering effects from Prozac? His own PTSD from school? I wish I knew and, oh, how I wish I could fix it.