I made the decision to medicate at a kid’s homeschool party.
August is six. He is smart, kind, and funny. He’s able to distinguish between almost identical species of toad and ready to tell you already where he’ll go to college and what he’ll study (Clemson, salamanders). The first to share with his brothers. The one to break out a wry comment or sarcastic joke to break the tension. He’s clever, this one, fun to be around, a fan of wild hairstyles — he’s had a mohawk, spikes, and an asymmetrical cut in his short life, all by his suggestion.
He has learned to read three times, forgotten each time, and rages when it’s reading time in homeschool. Every time he gets a sound wrong, he throws his hands in the air, or curls into a ball, and screams. Or he hits himself in the head. Or he throws the book. He does the same thing when he muffs a math problem. Only science and social studies, with their open-ended inquiry, remain safe. He can sit in front of two sentences to copy and scream for two and a half hours without writing them. I know. I tried once.
But still, I didn’t want to medicate. I thought, “We can get through this. This is why we homeschool: so we can adapt, so we can figure out what works, so we can change and fiddle and mold the education to the kids, not the kids to the education.” So I put up with it, as wearing as it could be.
We went back to the baby reading books. We backtracked to basic subtraction — with a number line — when he’d been on the verge of multiplication. Meanwhile, he taught himself toad husbandry, devoured treatises on salamanders (with someone else reading them aloud), begged to be read scientific papers on Spinosaurus written for academic audiences.
But at the party, something shifted.
August ran to me in tears. “Tell them to stop pushing me!” he wept. “They keep pushing me!”
He pointed to the mass of children playing some disorganized variant of freeze tag. I’d noticed him getting really excited and being It for long periods of time, but it hadn’t seemed to bother him, so I hadn’t worried. He pointed to the kid who’d he said had been pushing him, and I asked him nicely to stop. The boy was indignant.
“He started it! He keeps running up to everyone like this” — he showed me, arms crossed on his chest — “and bonking into them, and we’re just trying to stop him from knocking us over.”
August kept weeping. I apologized.
And I knew.
He wasn’t picking up on basic social cues. Kids with ADHD can have a terribly difficult time with that: They’re so wrapped up trying to control their behavior that there isn’t much left to read other people. Their impulsivity overrides social mores. Or they don’t notice the social mores in the first place because of their inattentiveness. I know. I was that kid. I had no friends because of it. I heard the anger in the boy’s voice, the threat of ostracism.
I saw August crying. He really didn’t understand what he had done wrong. I felt my mother’s frustration at me, the frustration I had never understood as an undiagnosed child: Why can’t you just get it? And I knew he needed more help than I could give him.
I knew the tantrums, the impulsivity, rejection sensitivity — we could deal with that at home. But I couldn’t make him understand social cues. I couldn’t teach him to read situations, I couldn’t stand next to him and decode peer-to-peer relations. He needed help I couldn’t give him.
A few days later, I described his behavior to the doctor. He prescribed a low dose of Focalin.
ADHD meds have helped me so much. They’ve helped my husband so much. And I want to see if they can help my son, too. I know they’ve turned me into a better version of myself, a more organized version. They’ve made my husband calmer, because he can prioritize things. And perhaps they can help August pay better attention to social cues, be more attentive. With some behavioral help, he can learn to read people and situations better. He will not be socially handicapped.
I swore I would never medicate my kids. I was worried about long-term side effects. But I worry more, now, about the psychological side effects of not medicating than the long-term side effects of medicating. Maybe he’ll be a little bit shorter. But perhaps he’ll be more able to negotiate the world around him, less uncertain, more socially adept than his father and I, late-life diagnosees.
Maybe. But in the short term, maybe it’ll be easier for him to make friends. And right now, I’ll settle for that.