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The Amazing Day I Saw My Son Medicated – and Focused

I always worried about giving medication to my son with ADHD. After a surprise day off from school, I saw how it really affected him.

The Monday after winter break, the day my kids were supposed to go back to school, was a really fabulous morning. I woke up my son and daughter a little early, so we wouldn’t be rushed, gave nine-year-old Lucas his ADHD meds at breakfast, made sure everyone’s breath was inoffensive, yelled maybe only once, and loaded us into the car. No one even had to run back inside to retrieve a forgotten pair of shoes. The morning was just amazing.

Then we arrived at school and I thought to myself, “Golly, traffic is extra light today.”

I realized that I had taken the kids back to school a day early, on a teacher-planning day. Oops. But it turned out to be a day of learning anyway, at least for me. I got to observe Lucas in a medicated state. We don’t normally medicate on days off from school. Even though he’s a little wild without meds, noisy and flappy and all over the place, we’ve decided that taking a break from meds is something we can all live with on the weekends.

Lucas likes it this way, and so do I. He feels he is involved with his own care, and that is important to me. The caveat to this arrangement is that I never get to see my son when he’s medicated. He’s out of the car and off to school before his meds have kicked in. By the time I pick him up, the meds have nearly worn off. I rely heavily on teachers’ reports to gauge how effective his meds are, which has been working fine. But I’m a little bummed that I don’t get to observe my son while he is medicated.

On this day, the day I mistook for the first day back to school, I finally got to see.

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I’m a work-from-home-mom, so once we returned from the mostly vacant school, I dived into to work as usual and told the kids to go play as they would on any other off-school day. I noticed the house was…quieter than usual. Lucas absorbed himself in drawings and books and running around the way he would on any other day, but the big difference was the lack of what I call nonsense-noise – those random outbursts of sound that defy categorization. At one point, he came and sat on the floor beside me while I worked, leaned against the wall, and asked some probing questions about the possibilities of time travel. The questions were typical; the eye contact was not.

In the afternoon, he asked if I would like to play chess with him. I was getting ready to work out, but I dropped everything and agreed to play with him. When your nine-year-old asks you to play chess with him, you freakin’ play chess with him. We sat face to face, and I watched his steady eyes focus on the board, watched him lean his chin into the palm of his hand as he considered the potential outcomes of a move he was considering, watched him become distracted by the dog begging for a head scratch, and quickly return his gaze to the board without missing a beat.

Several times, I had to stop myself from tearing up. Two hours we sat like that, two hours we battled it out, each of us equally determined to capture the other’s king (I won, but only by the skin of my teeth). The last several times I’d played chess with Lucas, he’d rolled around on the floor, made clicking noises, never had any idea what move I’d just made, and frequently needed to be reminded that it was his turn.

The whole day was like that-me, being amazed at how present he was. It was the eyes that got me, I think. The way he looked at me and not through me, the way his eyes stayed on me instead of shifting all over the room. I didn’t realize how infrequently he maintains eye contact until I was able to see what it looks like when he does maintain eye contact.

[Click to Read: How to Talk to Your Child About ADHD Medicine]

My kneejerk reaction is to say how different Lucas was, but that’s not right. He was the same Lucas he always is, but with some of the brain clutter stripped away. It’s not that Lucas was different from himself; it’s that he was more himself.

When we first suspected Lucas had ADHD, I wanted to go the “natural route.” We tried all the diets and eliminations and fish oil supplements, and I was apprehensive about putting pharmaceutical drugs into his body, leery about side effects, terrified because of all the horror stories I’d heard over the years. At times, I still feel guilty for medicating Lucas. I beat myself up and tell myself that he is fine, that it must be my parenting that is to blame for his difficulties with focus. That if I could only be more consistent, more patient, more loving, that I could solve all his problems without reaching for a pill.

I know now that these reactions, though normal, are irrational; the incredible turnaround in Lucas’s behavior and performance at school is proof that medication has helped. I’m glad I messed up the kids’ start date. I’m glad I got to witness Lucas being himself, fully himself, without the excess clutter caused by his ADHD. It turns out that, on a day I thought I was going to take my son to school, it was the other way around.

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