ADHD and Living Milk-Free
In a Milk Mood
I have to write this down because if I don't, in another ten years I may forget the details, and then begin to disbelieve it could be true (writing for me is the best way of preserving history and knowledge; and what better thing is there to do with it than share the information on the Net?)
My daughter, Miri, was born August 16, 1990, to much rejoicing in our household. Not only had it been a long struggle simply to get pregnant with her, and a mildly arduous pregnancy (I was nauseous well into my seventh month), ending in a rude cesarean section after several hours of hard labor -- much joy that she ever arrived! -- but she was a beautiful child and a good-natured one. Sure, she was not an easy baby, not one who would be content to sit for hours and play with her toes. She shouted a lot, whenever she wanted a new view of the world, and we generally obliged and gave it to her, or a new toy. She seemed to have insatiable curiosity.
She was also a very outgoing and friendly baby. She walked quite early, at eight months, before she even crawled, and I can very well remember going to McDonalds with her and watching her lean toward the bigger kids, craving to play with them, though she was clearly unsure how to go about initiating contact with strangers. She was beautiful and charming, so much so that I worried about her being stolen, and kept a close (but, I hoped, subtle) eye on her whenever we were out and about. Often at the park, she'd be my key to open a conversation with other parents. One day I recall another mother commenting on how well she got about at such a young age, and it turned out this mom was also a teacher, who said, "She hasn't crawled yet? Oh my! She won't do well in math then." I smiled indulgently, disbelieving, but this stranger told me Miri was missing an essential step in understanding the world, by not seeing and touching things on the ground, she would lose a step involving spacial relations. But I couldn't imagine my bright child, daughter of two mathematically inclined parents, doing badly in math.
Skip forward to the present, now, and join me in my amazement and discouragement at how rough a time Miri is having in school. In 1995 she started half-day Kindergarten, and I was shocked at how much straight up work was expected of such little children. She was only four when she entered the classroom (she turned five during the first week; she was the youngest child there) and she had been at home with Dave and I the whole time, not in preschool like most of her classmates, so she was doubly handicapped. She did not have the training the other kids did in classroom ways, and, bright as she was, she was not exactly mature socially. Kindergarten was a struggle, and she ended the year hating school.
Now she has just finished First grade, just barely. Her worst subject was math, and the whole year was a bit of a nightmare, with us forever applying pressure to her to try harder, and poor Miri constantly getting fed up with the whole thing and breaking down in tears.
There have been a lot of tears. They were the hallmark of her Kindergarten year. Her teacher, uncharitably, accused Miri of using crying as a manipulative technique designed to get others to do her work for her; she also blamed us for letting her get away with it at home -- as much as accusing us of spoiling Miri -- but neither of these was true. Miri's tears never got her out of anything, and they weren't a conscious design on her part but rather a clear expression of her extreme frustration at her inability to do as well as she felt she ought to at whatever task. Maybe Miri has not inherited her parents' mathematical abilities, but she has clearly inherited our perfectionist streaks.
In second grade she had a more understanding teacher, who was able to tell us that Miri's biggest problem was that she could not stay focused on the task at hand. She chatted with other kids, and (she admits) put a hand on each desk beside her and swung her feet in the isles. Dave observed her paying no attention at all when the teacher was telling the kids to collect their homework papers and put them in their backpacks; she did often forget to bring things home.
She just didn't seem able to focus on work.
At home, doing homework in the little amount of time we could allot to it each day, she had the same trouble, and even with a parent to help her, she often became frustrated and cried. As her grades slid further down and her behavior worsened, I could imagine in the future the dread label of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder being hung on her, and the prescription -- Ritalin -- being forced on her. (Ironic, isn't it, that the same school system that hypes "Just Say No To Drugs" all the time is the same that likes to push the Ritalin on the kids.) Though my formative years were the "Turn On Tune In Drop Out" ones, I advocate none of that (well, maybe the "Tune In" part); I believe in a good solid education, and I disbelieve that drugs are the answer to every problem that comes along.
The problem was not simply school work. Somewhere between the toddler years and the present, my sweet little baby had gone from a happy-go-lucky child into an often miserable and whiny one. Miri's emotions ran in extremes, buoyant highs, and gruesome lows, with those valleys being so deep that her misery was contagious to all of us around her. Despite our best efforts to be positive parents, we spent an awful lot of time with our mouths filled with stupid platitudes of the "Don't cry over spilled milk" variety, at a loss after all the modern parenting books ("How To Talk So Kids Will Listen" and "Your Spirited Child" and others) helped us not at all.
Thinking about it, it seemed to me the change came when Miri was about three. Since Ted was born just before her third birthday, the increasing grumpiness was not surprising -- it seemed at the time to be a case of sibling rivalry (though she clearly loved and rejoiced in her little brother as much as we did). At about the same time we noticed she complained a lot about stomach aches. At first we put these down to tension, but when we mentioned it to our good pediatrician, he suggested we note exactly when her stomach hurt, and what came just before, and it was not long before we figured out that it was milk that bothered her. A few Dairy Ease tablets taken with milk put an end to that variety of bellyaches, but not to the emotional ones.
Always in search of a cure for the problem, I mentioned Miri's moods and her trouble in school quite often to other parents. On the Cel-Kids list to which I subscribe for Ted (my celiac son)'s sake, other parents wondered whether she might be an undiagnosed celiac, since some of them had kids with similar symptoms that cleared up when they went gluten-free. I dutifully talked this over with our pediatrician, and we agreed to a blood test, but not until we'd attempted to stuff her with wheat products for three months (not easy when we're generally gluten-free at home). The blood test was negative (but I still wonder). Taking her mostly off of wheat at home had not seemed to make a noticeable difference, though many parents insisted she'd have to be totally gluten free for some time before I could be sure.
In another conversation, using ICQ with a fellow-celiac, I mentioned Miri's moods and problems at school, and this kind person said, "I'm a medical transcriptionist for a psychologist; when he sees kids with the symptoms you describe, the first thing he advises they try is to take their kids off of milk." Given Miri's problems with lactose intolerance, it was worth a shot. Dave and I discussed doing this in the summer after school was out, but as Miri's grades slid down into the failing levels, and the situation became more critical, I found I couldn't stand to wait, so I searched out some milk substitutes, and we took her off of milk.
The very next day, she was a new kid.
It used to be that when it was my night to work in our book store, and Dave came with the kids to pick me up, I would start dreading their arrival. When the van pulled up, I could feel myself shrink down, wanting to hide, and listening for the telltale moans and shouts and cries of anger to come from outside the door. Invariably one or the other or both would be upset. But within 24 hours after we took Miri off of milk, that pretty much stopped happening. Miri started getting along with her brother. She started listening to Dave when he explained math, and clicking to it. She woke up cheerfully, and went to bed cheerfully. Little problems stopped causing major explosions.
My sweet baby was back, in a rather grown-up little girl's form, but I could see my cheerful, inquisitive Miri back in blossom again.
I don't know what it is about milk.
Maybe it's that the discomfort from the lactose intolerance was never entirely relieved by those lactase tablets we gave her. Little kids don't really know what they're supposed to feel like from one moment to the next, I know, so perhaps Miri could not "put her finger on" whatever was bothering her. I think it's more likely, though, that the lactose intolerance was her body's way of saying that milk just wasn't good for my little girl, that she should stop taking it. I suspect it was interfering with her brain's operation, and I am very glad we tried taking her off of milk.
Clearly, milk can be dangerous. If you don't believe me, check out Don Wiss's milk-free pages, and the links on them, for some really eye-opening insights into what milk does do to a body.
If your child, or a child you know, displays any of the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, however mild, however extreme, I encourage you to explore food allergies as a possible source of the problem -- and as a possible cure -- before you resort to mind-altering drugs like Ritalin. Milk is not the only culprit; wheat is another; but there are many many possibilities. A good source of information on food allergies and their diagnosis is a book called, "Is This Your Child?" (You can buy Is This Your Child? : Discovering and Treating Unrecognized Allergies in Children and Adults through our association with Amazon.com).
I don't want you to think that I'm saying that taking Miri off of milk made her miraculously into The Perfect Child. She still has her moments when she gets in Ted's face and shouts, or challenges our rules just a little more, just a little more, to see at what point we lay down the law. She even still has the occasional episode of a mood so foul and unreasonable that Dave has called it "a milk mood." Sometimes we can trace this to something she ate, sometimes we can not. What did happen is that an unhappy, unfocused kid regained her sense of perspective and her ability to concentrate on what she was doing. To some this might seem like a small change, but to us it has been a major blessing.
Copyright ©1998 Linda Blanchard All Rights Reserved. Date Added: February 8, 1998. Last Update: October 26, 1999.