When 7-year-old Andrew Fraser’s attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was first diagnosed in 1995, his psychiatrist deemed it one of the worst cases he’d seen in 27 years.
Andrew was continuously hyperactive, had an enormous temper and behaved badly both at school and at home. He got into scuffles, and his parents were frequently called to come pick him up. His difficulties were detailed in a 2001 story in The Washington Post Magazine.
“It was hard to see how he’d make it in middle school,” said his mother, Wendy Fraser.
Ritalin calmed him a little, but many of his problems remained, says Fraser, now 23 and living in Maryland.
“I thought of myself as ‘one of those kids who had to take medication,’ ” he says.
When the boy’s behavior failed to improve significantly, psychiatrists added more drugs. Before he entered middle school, Andrew was taking 70 milligrams of Ritalin a day, an enormous amount, as well as two antidepressants.
The bad behavior reached a crisis point when Andrew got kicked out of a day camp. His doctor’s suggestion that the Rockville family add an anti-psychotic proved the last straw for the boy’s parents.
They took him to see a new psychiatrist, who replaced medication with talk therapy. Andrew also began attending a school for children with problems such as his.
Being off medication boosted Andrew’s confidence, and he became more social. He began hanging out with well-behaved neighborhood boys.
“They were ... people I could talk to who weren’t teachers, parents or doctors,” Fraser explains now.
While he was still in middle school, his family inherited a dog from his grandparents. Andrew began caring for it, which he found helped him stay calm. “There was something to look forward to at the end of the day,” he says.
But the dog was old and soon died. In 2002, when Andrew was 14, the family adopted a new dog, Tanner, with the stipulation that the boy would have to pay its expenses and care for it.
Andrew contacted Invisible Fence to see about setting up yard boundaries for the dog. When Andrew said he didn’t have enough money to pay, the representative offered him a job working in the office on Saturdays. There, Andrew met several dog trainers and began to think about becoming one. He loved being around dogs and took a second job helping a veterinarian.
At 17, Andrew enrolled in dog training school, where he said his mostly older classmates treated him respectfully and not as someone with a disorder.
Today, Fraser is a dog trainer with his own company, Canine Obedience Unlimited, in Frederick. He also has five dogs of his own who help keep him calm without medication. Helping dogs, like the ones that aided him, gives his life purpose.
“This a way for me to give back,” he says.
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