Monday, December 1, 2008

Finding Joshua

My son, Joshua, was plagued with social and behavioral problems. He was asked to leave two private schools, rejected from several local day care facilities, and finally placed in a program for "severely emotionally handicapped" children and put on medication for ADHD - all before the age of five!

He was in a class of six children and three teachers to deal with the behavioral challenges these children presented. Throughout the years my son was diagnosed with severe ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), along with traits of obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, and mood disorder syndrome. These years proved to be more difficult than I could have ever imagined.

Even before they're born, parents have so many hopes and desires for their children. I felt as though my dreams had turned to nightmares and it seemed like I'd never wake up.
Even though testing indicated that Joshua was extremely gifted, his emotional and behavioral problems kept him labeled as emotionally handicapped.

During the next seven years he was on three medications, totaling nine pills a day. It seemed necessary to keep him medicated 24 hours a day, every day. Symptoms that were treated with one medicine caused him to have trouble sleeping, so he had to take an additional medication for that, and yet another for the endless anxiety resulting from the issues he faced daily with social and behavioral problems. He had huge problems with opposition, defiance, aggression, anger, and impulsivity. The doctors tried different dosages and combinations of the medicines but without success.

He was kept medicated 24 hours a day and the problems only got worse.
Toward the end of his fourth grade year, Joshua was placed in an outpatient facility for depression, leaning towards suicidal. Children typically attended this facility for a week at the most, just enough time to be evaluated, receive recommendations for therapy, medication, behavior modification and family counseling. However, Joshua's behavior was such that he continued for five weeks.

None of the many professionals we saw were able to help him.
Time passed and problems remained despite medication and continual counseling. Two other medicines were recommended, in addition to the three he was on, but I couldn't bring myself to give my ten-year-old 5 different drugs. Towards the end of his fifth grade year he was placed in a children's psychiatric facility after he threatened to kill others and tried to hurt himself. Joshua had reached the end of his rope.

I was told that I could not see him or call him for the first 24 hours he was at the facility. As I said "good-bye" there was so much hurt behind his beautiful blue eyes, so much uncertainty of "Where do I fit in, why am I like this? When will my life be normal, and when will I feel at peace inside?"

The immense pain I felt for my child left me numb and hopeless. I wanted so badly to take him in my arms, hug him and tell him that everything would be okay, but I didn't know that to be so. I would go to the ends of the earth for him but felt as though I was already there and didn't know where to go from here. Despite all the avenues I took, all the endless hours of searching, every year continued to grow darker and darker.

The immense pain for my child left me numb and hopeless.

After several days Joshua was released from the hospital. Since the medicines were not helping, his doctor recommended we remove them all and start on a different regimen. For the remaining weeks of school he was in a homebound program where the teacher came to our home.

The doctor assured me that by weaning Joshua off the medicines slowly there would be no problems with withdrawal. The opposite was true! We went through three weeks of severely out-of-control behavior. Several times Joshua became extremely violent and I came close to calling 911 for help.

His reaction to withdrawal from the many drugs was a nightmare.

Next, I tried allergy treatments at a clinic and they helped somewhat. Still searching, I learned of the Feingold Program and that's when my son's recovery began in earnest.[ / (800) 321-3287]

Joshua has a severe behavioral reaction to certain synthetic food additives.

Joshua had traveled down a difficult road filled with hurt, disappointment and fear for as long as he can remember. He lost much of his childhood to this journey, but because of Feingold, Joshua has a new beginning.

Now, at age 17, we are starting our seventh consecutive year that Joshua does not carry the label "emotionally handicapped." Looking back, our success began when Joshua was in the sixth grade. It was roughly 8 weeks prior to school starting that we began the Feingold diet. Six weeks into the diet we saw dramatic changes in Joshua. Seventh grade went so well that during the annual meeting required for all students that receive "special services," the school suggested a battery of behavioral testing and classroom observations to determine if Joshua still needed the services and the label that he carried in his file. After thorough testing and review, Joshua's eight-year special needs folder was permanently closed. He no longer exhibited any signs of needing help in any form. This was truly a victory!

This is the seventh consecutive year Joshua's teachers have told me he shows respect and cooperation without any opposition. Joshua is finally able to manage his anger when things don't go his way (this feat alone was like a mountain to conquer).

Joshua no longer has trouble controlling his behavior. He is thriving in school and in all areas of his life.

His teachers view him as pleasant to be around as well as a good student. Joshua is able to remain seated for an extended period, is capable of thinking before acting, and no longer needs behavioral therapy. I no longer receive calls to come pick him up at school because he's out of control and disruptive. Joshua has been able to attend events through the school or sports where I was not required to stay "just in case there's a problem."

Joshua went a total of seven years being medicated 24 hours a day with three medications (totaling 9 pills a day, for 365 days a year) to a healthy diet and absolutely no medicine.

Joshua is finally forming strong friendships. This list could go on but the bottom line is ...since Feingold, this is the first time I like my son, and best of all HE likes who he's become.
Our life finally feels, and is, "normal." This is what we have both hoped for.

I know my son's "transformation" did not occur due to maturity, changing schools, peer pressure, a reward system, or anything of the sort. The changes in Joshua came as a result of the simple changes we made in the food we eat.

A few months after we began seeing success on Feingold, Joshua wanted to do what he called "an experiment." I allowed him to eat the synthetic chemicals (foods containing artificial colors and flavors) for a week because I knew his cooperation was essential for this to work. On the fourth day he began having rage attacks, showing opposition and defiance, just like before. He shouted at his teacher, threw a book across the room at another student, and spent a day in the principal's office.

When he went back to eating the synthetic chemicals, the old behaviors returned in four days. It was a humiliating experience for my son.

He embarrassed himself terribly in front of his peers and came home asking to ditch the experiment. This validated the fact that the diet was truly the key to his happiness and success.
During Joshua's seventh grade year he became involved in athletics and I watched with admiration as he showed dignity and self-control with each competition. Joshua demonstrated a wonderful balance with athletics and academics. In football he was cool under pressure and always showed good sportsmanship. As a basketball player, he illustrated great coordination and superior instincts handling the ball. He was awesome on the court, scoring a majority of the points at nearly every game. In track he surprised everyone when he went to district in pole vaulting and won first place. This was a sport he'd never attempted, yet he was smooth with style and grace. On the swim team, he enjoyed the meets and swam his heart out, going to district with his team and placing 2nd in several relays.

Today he is cool under pressure and treats other people with respect.
During these athletic events he demanded much of himself but was still a solid team player with a friendly approach to his teammates and competitors. He has a lot of respect for the rules and for his opponents. At the end of the school year I had the joy to see him presented with the 110% Award from his coach. This was one of the two top awards given to athletes at his school. It represented sportsmanship, hard work, self-control, dedication, respect towards coaches and peers, and overall athleticism. The coach described how Joshua was at every practice with a smile on his face and a determination to do his best, with an attitude that was hard to surpass as he showed a tremendous amount of cooperation towards being a team player. That award meant even more to us. It signified a 110% turnaround from his oppositional defiance and lack of self-control he displayed daily in previous years, and the very behavior that would have prevented such an accomplishment.

Joshua was singled out for a top honor from his coach, receiving the "110% Award."
During 8th grade, Joshua kept his academics up and continued to participate in a variety of sports. With pride, he repeated the same performance, winning district in pole vaulting. In addition, I again had the joy of supporting Joshua as he was presented with the 110% Award from his coaches at an assembly in front of the entire school. The coach stated that it was a unanimous vote from the coaching staff to award this to him once more, as no other student was more deserving. That was a remarkable compliment to Joshua and only reiterates the progress he has achieved, yet another year.

High School begins a new chapter for Joshua as he enters the Air Force JROTC
Joshua began high school in September 2003 at Klein Collins High and enjoys it immensely. A week into school, he came home and announced that he had decided to discontinue his path in sports and pursue an interest in ROTC. Needless to say, this surprised us all. However, once the initial shock wore off and I learned more about the program, I was quite pleased with his decision. I was even more proud of him for his courage to make such a drastic change in his life. At his age, change is not always easy, but Joshua has learned a great deal about making changes in his life.

A couple of weeks went by and before I knew it Joshua had gone from wide receiver to Cadet. The hair was cut, the shoes were polished and the uniform was pressed. He was on his way to making this change as successful as possible.

In ROTC, Joshua is taught many things that he will take with him everywhere in life. Such as leadership, time management, organization, community involvement, ethics, decision-making, communication skills, writing and giving speeches, just to name a few. There is also a great deal of commitment expected from the students in this program. The Colonel & Sergeant are strict with the cadets and they are held to higher standards than that of other students.

This type of program & level of commitment is not something Joshua would have ever been considered for prior to our success with Feingold, however, Joshua loves the commitment and is thriving in the program.

He was quickly promoted and was soon asked to be a part of the armed drill unit. This is a position that students are normally required to try out for after one year on the unarmed team. However, fellow cadets recognized Joshua's determination at practice and he was invited to join the unit. At that time, he was the first freshman that had ever had this experience or exception made.

He was an integral part of winning a very prestigious victory of Best in Air Force at the National Meet. Due to this, the team was invited to the 30th Invitational Drill Meet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs where the armed drill team placed first in two out of three categories. He also applied and was accepted to Leadership School in San Antonio during the summer. Joshua is very proud of all the accomplishments he has had since he began the JROTC Program.

The first day Joshua wore his uniform to school was for the 9/11 ceremony. As I watched him standing at attention and saluting the flag with his unit, dressed like a soldier, so regal and confident, I was more proud of him in that instant than I think I have ever been in my entire life as his mother. Time stood still for a moment as I looked around the campus. There were so many kids dressed in teen clothes with their fad haircuts and dreamy looks of "what's for lunch today".
When I looked back at Joshua I saw the boy he had been and the young man he has become. I could see a look of pride on his face.

He seemed to stand out above the rest. His past is well behind him now, with nothing standing in the way of his future. Although he is your typical teenager in so many ways, there has always been a soldier inside of him, fighting to survive. There is an unspoken depth, determination and willingness in Joshua to master anything life brings his way.

Both tenth and eleventh grade brought their own set of victories. Joshua was promoted to command the Armed Drill Team and led his unit to two national titles in one year. He was voted Prince by his peers at the Military Ball, which spoke highly of the friendships he has formed. He was awarded with two national leadership awards: the Air Force Sergeant's Award and the American Legion Military of Excellence Award. In addition to these accolades, Joshua was one of two students selected from the state of Texas to tour with a leading global youth exchange program, Up with People. This is a unique experience for young adults that combines 22 weeks of international travel, community service and global leadership while building bridges of understanding as a foundation for world peace. In July of 2007, Joshua will represent Texas as an ambassador for the United States with an extraordinary semester of traveling the world with 100 students from over 20 countries. His extensive travel will cover 19 cities on three continents where he will meet political, corporate and social leaders around the globe. It will be a world of discovery as he learns about other cultures and countries while giving of himself.
Joshua's future awaits him with endless possibilities.

As Joshua prepares to enter his senior year in high school and then heads off to tour the world before going to college, I can hardly catch my breath as I reflect on this journey. I am so privileged to have witnessed the years unfold as they have.

Joshua will grow up to be a man of strong character and will exhibit a zeal for life that will make everyone around him a little bit better for having known him. My heart beams with pride when I see the young man he's becoming and leaps with joy as I marvel at his future.

I am hoping this story will help others become aware of the importance diet has on behavior. Perhaps it will result in giving other children a chance to live a happy "normal" life like my son now has.

Taunya Stevenson Updated 2/1/08

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