JM is an adorable 13 year-old boy with a huge smile and big brown doe eyes. He is Puerto Rican, with light skin and light brown hair. He is a genius, and he has ADHD. This ADHD borders on insanity. It is an all encompassing condition, that drowns out any rational thoughts he may have, and suffocates all signs of intelligence.
He has been prescribed Concerta, a pill that is designed to calm him down, balance the adrenaline coursing through his veins and possessing him with demonic strength. The standard dose is 18mg, and he is prescribed double that – 38mg. Most of the time, however, he comes to school with a dosage of none.
“What kind of mean trick is your dad playing on us?” we ask him when he arrives at school with his eyes all googly, a devilish grin playing on his lips. He picks up a pencil and throws it across the room, and then looks at us innocently.
JM gets 100% on every single thing that he learns. If he is medicated when we teach it, he learns it immediately, and retains it forever. If he is medicated everyday, he’d be the highest functioning child in the school. He’s great at football, loves the Yankees, and is starting to have girlfriends. He’s a sweet kid who is curious and interested in the world around him. At the beginning of the year I saw Mark Teixeira when I got tickets to the Letterman show. I showed him pictures and he asked to look at them 4 more times that day.
He has a brother in the 6th grade, a sister in the 7th, and he’s in the eighth. All of them are being raised by their father, a man who works near the school and spends most of his time in the school, checking up on his kids or hanging out in the PTA office. His mother died two years ago of a heroine overdose, and his uncle was killed last year. His sister gets in an increasing amount of trouble and leaves the room in tears anytime the word mom is said. With the predominance of ‘Yo Mama’ jokes, she spends a lot of time in the hall.
When he isn’t medicated, JM makes touchdowns after school and makes all of his friends laugh. He throws things across the room, talks incessantly, and threatens to poison his teachers. When asked to be quiet by my co-teacher, he went on a quiet rant.
“F*** out of here, you shop at Target. You fat B****. You go to Payless to pay less. Get a life. I was talking to Ms. K not you so go shop at Payless. You even buy your shoes at Target. Shut Up, Mind Your Business.”
Last month he was mad at me and told people he had put rat poison in my coffee. He told his dad not to buy me a Christmas present. He stole things out of my purse and he told the Assistant Principal that I was trying to sabotage him.
Then he looks at you with his big eyes and his tiny frame, and you see that he has no control over himself and can’t be held accountable.
When he takes his medication, he is a zombie, quiet and without affect. He is studious and concentrated, and absolutely silent. He doesn’t talk, he doesn’t run triumphantly around the room and out the door, he doesn’t yell “Hurricane Katrina!” when there is a gust of wind that blows the window open. He sits silent and somber at his desk, and listens and learns. But he is not here.
We curse the father for sending him to school unmedicated. He can’t learn, we can’t teach, he’s out of his mind and getting in trouble. How can a father not give his son the medicine that he is prescribed? He claims that JM hides the pill in his mouth and spits it out. We ask JM, why don’t you take your pill? You know you are hurting yourself. He says it takes away his appetite so he can’t eat, and that it makes him feel lazy all day.
“How do you feel right now? Do you feel crazy?” we ask him, after he has vaulted over desks to smack someone and then done a victory lap around the room.
“I feel normal.” He says. We tell him to take half the pill, and he comes to school toned down but still not learning.
It’s a difficult situation – to be successful he must suppress himself. And as much as we wish he did it every day, if he did we wouldn’t know him. Wouldn’t know about the incredible energy that he has, or how hard he can make people laugh, or how he glows when he gets attention. As a parent, it would be hard to give your child a pill that would make them disappear – even if it was the only way for them to learn.