Appointment with Destiny - An ADHD Diagnosis

Can my son have ADHD? Beginning the process of diagnosis.

By By Jeff Simpson, author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie

Alex has doctors' appointments soon, with his pulmonologist, a neurologist, the eye doctor, and a brain specialist. The results will be important.

We're doing one appointment a month. When Alex first came home, we used to do no more than two doctors' appointments a week. More than that and Alex used to get frazzled; throw in the inevitable "The doctor's running late," and we'd wind frittering our days flipping through People while hoping no ambulatory kid tripped over Alex's tubing in the waiting room. More appointments than that and we got ragged -- as I discovered one wintry afternoon in December of 1998, when, on the way to our fourth appointment of that week, I looked down to see Alex's tubing unhooked from the oxygen tank and dangling in the slush.

We've actually done the pulmo, which Alex aced this morning. This doctor is a warm Greek man, a father himself of two youngsters, and he lights up when he sees Alex. He glows just like he did that Sunday afternoon in late 1998, when we showed him a NICU picture of Alex and asked if we could please please transfer Alex to his hospital. He's been as close to a friend as a doctor can be. Our point today was to see about finally getting the big tank of oxygen - an explosive torpedo that has towered in the corner of the boys' room forever -- out of our home.

The pulmo scribbled the order, and added that Alex is "much more focused and together than he used to be." He was also pleased that Alex now eats yogurt and ice cream. "With these kids, you have to look for any sign of progress," he said. (Later, Jill thought "these kids" was a dark comment. I chose to believe that the doctor just meant kids who spent their first year in the hospital.)

The neurologist is next. "She's a neuro-psychologist," says Jill. "Or maybe just a psychologist. I don't know." I don't know much about her, either, except that she broke our previous appointment on 24 hours' notice, and that Jill jotted "ADD" next to her name on our phone-side calendar.

"ADHD" is the biggest bugaboo of Alex's educational life so far, the compulsion deep in his head that sets him ricocheting around the classroom when he's supposed to be studying ABCs. Sometimes I can get Alex to stay with a book. Sometimes not. Often he spends whole music-therapy classes screaming around the room, trying to pry open the door, trying anything other than sitting and listening to the music and paying attention to the world he's in. ADHD in big letters.

A bugaboo's a bugaboo, I realize, but still I'm scared that this appointment with Dr. Whateversheis may be the first in a series that puts us on the path of new drugs. It's hard to forget that some of the old drugs did him little good.

The eye doctor we know. She's a kind, accomplished woman. Her waiting room features many quality toys, as well as a copy of her book. I like that when it's at last time for the appointment, she stands in the doorway of her office and calls the child's full name, along with "C'mon in!"

What happens once Alex is in there, of course, is less hale-fellow: bright lights, icy drops, miniature sneakers hammering at dad's thighs. But we need some clue as to what Alex's left eye sees. His developmental pediatrician is concerned that that eye sees poorly, and impedes everything from descending staircases to his spooning food to his mouth. Any doctor who'd ever seen Alex work a playground ladder and slide might wonder, as I do, if his vision is anything less than perfect. And we did take Alex to another eye doctor sometime ago. That doc gave Alex's eyes a clean bill, physically, though he did have an illuminated laughing clown imbedded in his office wall.

My theory is that his eyes are fine, physically. The real problem is where they're sending the messages. Which brings us to the brain doctor.

This guy comes recommended with two qualities: he's British, and he takes our insurance. Before I cart Alex there, however, I will ask what happens during one of his appointments. Right now I imagine a table, some kind of sliding bed, and a humming machine that will make Alex break into, "Okay all right okay BYE!" Alex will squirm and maybe cry, and maybe kick mom or dad's thigh while the machine takes pictures and I tell myself that many, many kids have to go to brain doctors. Then we will come home.

Days later, I will unlock my mailbox and find the results. I imagine they, in turn, will unlock a string of future appointments.

Jeff Stimpson is the father of a preemie and a prolific writer. He shares his touching and often humorous stories on his book Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie