ADHD Impulse Control: from Frustration to Fantastic

Today was a day too fantastic not to share.

It was a day I hadn’t anticipated. Words I expected to be different. Negative. Worrisome. Hard. And Heartbreaking.

But instead, what I heard was positive encouragement, wonderful feedback, and a hope I haven’t felt in a long time.

Today I could not be any prouder of our son, Cole.

ADHD Impulse Control: from Frustration to Fantastic as seen on PaleoParents.com

Most people know that we started this blog, not because of our own success stories, but because of the family’s success. It was the behavioral and medical improvements in our children that made us realize Paleo wasn’t a diet fad for weight loss, but rather an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense lifestyle that positively affected our whole family. We were so thankful for what it had done for us, we wanted to spread the word and share with whomever we could reach. Of course we never imagined the blog would become as widely read as it is today, but we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to inspire and join each of your lives – however minor that may be.

But I’ll admit, as time passed Paleo became more “just a part of our lives”, and something that was no longer the most important thing. In fact, the last two years we had been really struggling to get Cole back on the amazing path he jumped to when Paleo entered our lives. The more we struggled the more we (admittedly) resented that Paleo wasn’t enough. It’s not a miracle drug or a magic wand for everyone; and we knew that, but after 3 years for it to be less effective was frustrating.

The real issue wasn’t food or lifestyle, but rather just how the world works. Cole, who we knew had ADHD from an early age, had hit 3rd grade in the public school system. Our specific county and school district historically performs extremely well academically on the standardized tests enforced in this grade, which means more public funding. Cole suddenly was expected to sit longer, concentrate harder, and relax less in the classroom. We struggled with how to deal with what those effects were having on his body for what felt like infinity.

Every report card became a worry, a heart break, and a frustration. I knew my boy was smart and was trying his very best, but he just wasn’t able to achieve standards now being enforced. It affected his self-esteem, his desire to make friends, or even go to school at all. This is the reality of ADHD, specifically his form of attention disorder which was impulse related. Quite frequently those with the condition are also depressed, anxious, and moody as a result of their own frustrations.

But we didn’t give up. We looked into alternative methods to help Cole. We worked as a team and asked him what he wanted, what he thought might help. We discussed the possibility of him taking medication and the long-term results of such a decision. We decided together that we wanted to give a few things a chance before going down that path.

What we discovered were some simple strategies that made a big difference. At the end of last year’s school year things started to improve. We saw a light in the tunnel for the first time in nearly two years. After some family discussion, Cole agreed to talk about his struggles and successes on our podcast.

ADHD Impulse Control: from Frustration to Fantastic as seen on PaleoParents.com

If you’re interested in what we did that worked and the science behind attention deficit disorders, which includes Cole’s impulse control version of ADHD that is available free on iTunes or web browser here.

The complication with the solution was that it had come at relatively bad timing. We’d finally figured out a solution at the end of the school year, his 4th quarter of 4th grade to be specific. While I was optimistic about the improvements we’d made, I was also concerned that moving out of the routine over a summer break could mean a difficult start to 5th grade – where yet again the requirements for young children would become more intense as teachers began preparing them for transition into middle school.

Over the summer we kept to the standards we had established during the school year; he drank coffee when he felt he needed it, he got lots of sleep and fresh air, and screen time was limited to the occasional times we watched movies or shows as a family. He happily read books, played Nerf guns in the yard with neighbors, and rode his bike… a lot. His behavior continued to show the improvement we’d seen at the end of the previous school year, but the weeks before school started Cole began to get anxious again.

We were all nervous how 5th grade would go. We didn’t know who his teacher would be and if they would be compatible. But after the first day of school, Cole came home with a smile on his face. He was eager to tell us about his day for the first time in years. He was willing to tell us what they were learning and he was making friends in the classroom. He was enthusiastic to play trumpet in Band and requested to join his first organized sport, wrestling. At home he was friendly, he made jokes, he smiled.

ADHD Impulse Control: from Frustration to Fantastic as seen on PaleoParents.com

We all breathed a huge sigh of relief as Cole continued to be engaged and enthusiastic through the first quarter of 5th grade. His classwork and tests in school came back with high marks, higher than he’d had since 2nd grade. But still, that worry in the back of our minds wouldn’t let go of not really knowing what was happening in the classroom from the teacher’s perspective. We’d talked with the teacher and principal at the beginning of the school year and knew they were accommodating to some of our needs for his success, such as a yoga ball to sit on in the class and alternative snacks when treats would be in the classroom.

We’d done what we could to empower and support Cole and had to entrust him to the school during the day. Every sign we had to measure his ongoing success pointed in a positive direction. But it wasn’t until this morning, which was our parent-teacher conference to recap Cole’s first quarter that we finally got to breath the sigh of joyous relief.

When we first sat down with his teacher, I braced myself for the worst. I was listening and picking apart her words to read between the lines for signs of concern. But it never came!

His teacher said she would not have been able to tell he was ADHD! “He’s not using the yoga ball because he doesn’t need it, he does fine in the chair. Anything behavioral is all just 5th grade boy stuff.”

I cried in the teacher’s conference.

It can be stressful and worrisome to impart such drastic lifestyle measures on children; as parents we worry that no matter how much research we read or efforts we make it may still be wrong, “Are we really doing the right thing?” is a question Matt and I asked ourselves regularly.

Today is a huge sigh of relief. Yes, he’s doing well. He’s smiling more. He is happily participating in a group sport and excited about it. He has pride in his work and is performing well. I have a hard time comprehending what that means for his quality of life. There are no words I can use to describe my elation and pride in hearing that he has turned around his own behavior in the classroom. Eating paleo-friendly foods wasn’t enough. It is an essential part, but it’s not all it took. Being willing to evaluate what other things affected Cole’s body as much as food is what brought us to the success we can celebrate today.

ADHD Impulse Control: from Frustration to Fantastic as seen on PaleoParents.com

This moment is what being a parent is all about, all the sacrifices we make, all the stress and effort we take – helping your child become the best version of themselves makes it all worth it.

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  • Penny Stephens

    I am so excited for Cole and the success you have all had going paleo! Congrats!

  • Chelsey

    Yay! That’s wonderful. Hooray for Cole!

  • sabrina

    Oh I just loved this post!!! The pics melted my heart but when I got to the end I had tears in my eyes. You both should be very proud of yourselves for working so hard at parenting and providing the best for your son. SO glad to hear he is doing well in school (not only his grades but interacting and enjoying himself). Keep up the good work “Paleo Parents”!!!! 🙂

  • Colleen Friel Olsen

    I have tears in my eyes….so wonderful for you all!

  • Elaine

    So happy for Cole! Thanks for sharing, so we can all learn from this. Your families success will be an encouragement to others when they are wondering if it can be done without drugs!

  • I am so excited for you guys. I am actually all teary as I read this. Yay Cole! He must be so proud.

  • Janelle Biskup

    As a fourth grade teacher, THANK YOU so much for sharing. I’m excited to share this with several families who are at a loss on how to help their child without medication if possible.

    Two questions if you get a chance…
    1. Could you share what the positive behavior chart looked like that Cole has found success using? Does his teacher fill it out or is he responsible for filling it out. I currently use one but am not totally happy with it.
    2. I’m in California so it may not be true for you..but you mentioned limiting screen time, but we are increasing the use of technology in the classroom (chrome books). If Cole is using technology in the classroom, does he notice or has he mentioned that he notices a change in the way he feels? Most of what we are doing is research or various projects, although our district has purchased a math program which is very “video game-ish”. Just wondering how this affects those struggling with attention or impulse control.

    Thanks again for sharing such a personal family struggle.

    • Janelle,
      1. His behavior chart from school came from his teacher and noted his results of the week reported by day. Parents would get it on a friday afternoon but the student and teacher would record the score each day. Each student would be specific to the behavior they were working on, so in Cole’s case at that time it was participation related. We started celebrating positive weeks with a certain rating or above by having 1:1 time with Cole, which he really thrived from.
      2. Yes, we have electronics in the class room as well as computer lab 2x/week. He doesn’t react to learning electronics in the classroom the same way as video games at home. In fact, we’ve found over time that in the classroom the promise of being able to work on math games in the class room once other work is done has helped him be focused and finish so that he can have that time. I’m sure it varies by child, but that hasn’t been a problem for him.

    • Lori Jo Gustafson Schiebe

      Janelle ~ and Stacy & Matt,
      I have found a resource that has been invaluable to our family over the past few months. Dr. Victoria Dunckley’s book Reset Your Child’s Brain. She puts forth some very compelling theories, especially, about a new disorder ‘ESS’ – electronic screen syndrome. I have twin grandsons, 9 y/o, who are both diagnosed with combined type ADHD and ODD – oppositional defiant disorder, and one falls on the high end autism spectrum. As an extended family, we are doing everything we can to combat these disorders and we found limiting screen time to be a key piece.

      Last night I handed over my copy of Real Life Paleo to my daughter and told her it is time we all get on board. I have been transitioning myself and the boys (I provide year round daycare for them) to a primarily paleo lifestyle over the past year, but it has been up and down. Stress is our hardest component to manage, especially with the boys behaviors, and with added stress comes poor choices – in food, activity levels and sleep. But we are working on it. Stacy, you and your boys (all four of them!) are such an inspiration to me. To see you work through your struggles gives me hope that so much can be done – whether it’s the 100+ pounds I need to lose, the lessening of depression and anxiety or the mental health challenges my grandsons face, I know you have walked the path before me.

      Big hugs to Cole on his accomplishments! It is so great when they can figure out what works for them!

      Keep up the awesome work!

  • Krista

    Love it! Great encouragement for so many.

  • Stacy, I feel your parental pain. I too had, well two actually, my oldest son, Easton was ADD and youngest son, Kaden was ADHD. Their diagnoses was in the very early 2000’s and I didn’t know any better so the decision was made to put them on meds, at different times of course. We made a major effort to not let the “stigma” affect Easton. He was already being bullied on the bus since the first year of school. Anyway he struggled his entire way through school and my biggest worry was him becoming a dropout. He made it through and at 21 is completing welding school. He has outgrown or whatever happened his symptoms and is looking forward to his incredibly secure and versatile future. BTW, when we moved we found most of his medications thrown behind a bookcase. 🙂
    Kaden was another story, He pretty much refused to take the meds from the start and while he was even more book smart than Easton he was pretty mean and argumentative. I barely made it through his childhood. Did I mention both were adopted? He is 18 now, a very good student in college, still kinda mean, but finding his way. He wants to be a fireman because he knows himself well and cringes at the thought of being behind a desk.
    The lesson for me was to simply be there for my kids. Spend time talking and much time encouraging them to do their thing. They know at their core what is right for them. One of our jobs is to take away the fear of expressing themselves. I know Cole is very well loved and encouraged, I just had to share my experience. I am very happy for Cole’s success in managing this condition.
    I do believe that much of this issue is created by the lack of outdoor play and the requirement for them to sit, still and quiet for so many hours.
    Anyway, the best to all parents and children affected, it is not an easy road and fear only makes it worse.

  • Thank you for your honesty. Wishing you all continued growth!

  • Janelle

    We are struggling with this right now… implementing these options. Screen time seems to be our down fall as many of the math practice and school resources are used on her chrome book. It’s a work in progress but we ARE seeing improvements! Thanks for the post! Such a great perspective from your son!

    • Cole plays math and learning games in school, but that is ALL the screen time he gets. Schools cannot require online reading at-home (for kids that don’t have devices at home) so his homework is always with a piece of paper of some kind 🙂

  • Just plain awesome! What a great story! Dealing with ADHD in my family as welll, this really struck a chord with me. Yay!!