FOR 10 YEARS, Terri Steineckert took every parenting class she could find and tried to be a good mother to Tyler. By the time he entered fifth grade, she was ready to give up.
"On his first day of school at Willow Canyon Elementary, I shook hands with Tyler's teacher and burst out crying. I told the man, `I am sorry you have to have my son in your class. I am sorry that we have this child.'"I told him I had great sympathy. He was going to have a terrible year. But asked him, `Please, please don't call me about problems.'
"I was so burned out it was all I could do to be civil with my son. I did have four other kids that needed me and were responsive. I was so torn. I am LDS; I believe in families. I thought I was a good mother, and this was something a good mother wouldn't say. But as a safety measure for me, I knew it was time to concentrate on the other four."
She got a call from the teacher a week later. "My first thought was, `Oh no. I asked him not to call.' " But this time, for the first time since Tyler started walking, someone was calling her not to complain about her son's behavior, not to accuse her of being a poor disciplinarian or an uninvolved mother - someone was calling to offer help.
Tyler's inability to concentrate was, once again, causing him to disrupt the class. But his teacher wasn't calling about that. He was calling to tell Terri Steineckert that her child's problems with concentrating had put him three years behind the others. Tyler was reading at a second-grade level.
"We think he belongs in a resource
class," the teacher said. "Would you and your husband be willing to come in and talk to the principal and guidance counselor about what's best for Tyler?"
Terri Steineckert was not only willing, she recalls, she was desperate for their help.
TERRI STEINECKERT has formed a support group for parents of children who have ADD. That group will have a booth at the conference. She understands, she says, what other parents of ADD children go through. Steineckert was moved to tears when the school psychologist quietly and hesitantly suggested to her that her son might have an actual physical disorder rather than being incorrigible.
"I could kiss the ground that school is built on," says Steineckert.
To understand her relief - now that Tyler is an average 12-year-old who makes average grades and deals well with junior high lockers and changing classes - one must first understand what their family life was like before the school put him in resource class for a year and a pediatrician prescribed Ritalin for him:
Tyler is Terri and Neil Steineckert's third child. They noticed he was different when he began to crawl.
His mother says, "From the time he was 6 months old, we were so frustrated. One of his favorite things was electrical sockets. He was always at them. It did not matter how many times you scolded, gave him another toy, put him in a playpen, slapped his hands. He was fascinated. Before he was a year old, my husband and I looked at each other and said, `We are going to have to work out some way to discipline him without spanking because otherwise we'll abuse him.' He was that frustrating that young.
"But," she stresses, "we didn't just turn our backs on him. We didn't quit disciplining him. I started taking parenting classes to find other ways that would hopefully be more effective."
Steineckert has a mental list of Tyler's impulsive behaviors. She recites his deeds for half an hour, beginning with him climbing on top of the fridge when he was only 18 months old, getting kitchen matches and lighting a dozen of them on the carpet before she found him.
Attraction to fire is common with children who have ADD. So was the trouble he had sleeping at age 2. At 3, Tyler was asked to leave preschool after only two weeks. He couldn't stand in line or stay on the playground or refrain from fighting with other children.
None of these symptoms is unusual for a small child. But as Tyler got older he was still as impulsive as a 2-year-old. And the results were increasingly dangerous.
"At least once a year we took Tyler to the emergency room for something major. Blood everywhere. Broken bones. We thought he was just accident-prone," says his mother.
He got a skateboard for his 10th birthday. A few days later he sneaked to the dry field behind his house, poured gasoline over the skateboard and lit a match.
School was a disaster for him. The family moved often, which compounded Tyler's problems, and no doubt delayed his diagnosis. His academic career went from bad ("He was spanked by the principal in kindergarten," his mother recalls) to worse. "By third grade his teacher called home at least twice a week."
Steineckert thought the world was blaming her. "I knew I was trying. I'd sit with him for three hours, and he'd only finish five math problems." Still she was starting to agree with society's assessment: She was failing at motherhood, at least with Tyler. She felt guilty.
Tyler felt worse. "He was just a sad little boy," his mother says. "He went through a greater hell than we did." Tyler, after all, spent 10 years with reprimands, 10 years of watching other children succeed and please the adults around them while he fell further and further behind.
Towards the end of term when he was in fourth grade, Tyler's teacher gave him a writing exercise to measure his self esteem. To a question about what he liked to do with his friends, he wrote, "I don't have any friends." When asked what he saw when he looked in the mirror, he said, "A monster."
About life in general, he responded, "I don't know why I am even alive."
His mother cried when she read what he wrote.
She felt tears come again - this time in relief - when, his first day on Ritalin, he asked to hold his sleeping baby cousin and sat still for an hour. "You've never seen a child be so gentle," she says. And again she says she felt herself choking up when he came home during his first month of special education class holding something behind his back. "Ta-ta-da-da!" he chortled and produced something he'd never had before: a math paper with a bright red "100 percent" on the top. "Sure it was first-grade level, but what did that matter?" asks his mom. "He was finally proud of himself."
All this is not to say the Steineckerts' home life is perfect. They've got five children, after all. Then, too, Tyler takes summer vacations from Ritalin and gets hyperbusy again. He takes appliances apart, accidentally breaks toys, throws fruit at the neighbors' houses and generally is quite impulsive.
But these days his mother measures the quality of their life and finds more reason for joy than for frustration. Recently, she says, he was asked the question again, "Tyler, what do you see when you look in the mirror?"
Hearing his answer his mother cried again, as she has cried countless times over this child. "Oh, I see a pretty cute, pretty sweet boy," was his reply.