Ask the Experts

The Pause Button

A grandfather discovers that, sometimes, ADHD children just need a break.

The pause button is necessary for people with ADHD
The pause button is necessary for people with ADHD

On a recent Saturday night, I took three of my grandchildren to a movie while their parents went out for the evening. My older granddaughter is 15, my grandson is 11, and my granddaughter with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is 13.

When we stopped for pizza before catching the 7 p.m. show, my 13-year-old, who is usually pleasant and funny, was fussy. She ate little and said over and over that she did not really want to go out to the movies that evening.

We walked on to the theater and found good seats. I thought it best to sit next to her. She continued to fuss about not wanting to be there, and I reminded her that she could have stayed with her grandmother for the evening. “But I want to see this movie.” Her brother tried to comfort her. Her teenage sister sat in the far seat and tried to ignore what was going on.

When she continued to complain, I asked her what was the matter. She replied, “I hate going to the movies. I like to watch movies at home.” I asked her what the difference was. “Here, I have to sit still. At home, I can walk around during the movie if I want to.” She went on, “If I get bored at home, I can hit the pause button, do something else for a while, and then come back to the movie. Here, I have to sit still and try hard to stay focused on the movie. If I want to move around and go into the lobby, I miss part of the movie.” I understood her frustration.

After several minutes of this, I asked if she would like to leave. We could rent the movie on DVD when it comes out. She said, “If you won’t be mad at me, yes, I want to leave.” Her sister and brother stayed to watch the movie. After walking around the lobby for a few minutes, looking at the posters advertising coming attractions, we went to a nearby store to get an ice-cream cone. We took a little walk while eating our cones, then returned to the movie theater. During our walk, my granddaughter was her old self. We laughed at jokes together. She told me how “bad” each of her teachers was. We both had a good time.

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We arrived at the lobby in time to find the other two as they left. Although each sibling told her what a pest she was and how good the movie had been, they didn’t seem surprised at her need to walk around. Her brother remarked that she had been fine all day and that she had been looking forward to this movie. He didn’t know why she had “turned into such a complainer.”

His comments made me think. It was Saturday, so she had taken her eight-hour stimulant medication that morning. But with no homework to do, she didn’t take a 4 p.m. pill. As we walked to the car, I asked her in private if maybe the problem was not being on her medication. She agreed that my assessment probably explained it, adding, “But, I like being silly and hyper like I am when I’m off my medicine.”

I dropped the three of them off at home and gave each a hug and kiss goodnight. As I hugged my 13-year-old, she whispered to me, “Thanks for being my pause button tonight.” I gave her an extra hug.

I have had ADHD all my life. I’ve spent most of my professional life working with children and adolescents who have ADHD. I thought I knew all there was to know about having ADHD and about working with others who had it. But tonight I learned something new. I learned about the importance of the pause button.

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