Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Buddy System

Dylan eyes the pool beneath our balcony, searching for a "target." When he spies one - a boy or boys within two or three years of his age,  he springs into action. Trunks on. Swim shirt. Floatie or boogie board and he's off.

During this vacation, it's been a target rich environment, for buddies anyways.

It does my heart good to see this. There was a time that I questioned whether I ever would.

I didn't start out questioning it. Dylan had two good buddies in preschool, which his teachers said was developmentally appropriate. One or two good friends was all a little kid could handle. So he was sometimes a little too bossy. We were sure he would grow out of it.

When he started kindergarten, neither of his buddies entered the same school. I tried to "set him up" with a classmate before classes began and for a time it seemed as though this was a great idea. But it soon became apparent that although Dylan was invited to all of the birthday parties, there weren't a lot of playdate requests. The ones I tried to arrange frequently ended in tears, as did many of the birthday parties.

It was pretty isolating for Dylan, and for RockStar and myself. We rarely got a break.

Which is why I was thrilled one hot June day when he was invited to sleep at a classmate's house. It was at the end of a long day, which should have been my first clue. He and I had gone blueberry picking in the morning, followed by an afternoon birthday party at a local amusement park. He and the classmate (the one I had set him up with before kindergarten) were thick as thieves throughout the party. By the time it was over, he had been invited to spend the night.

Their relationship had been a rocky one and I should have been more wary, but I wasn't. I was just excited for a night off! In no time, RockStar and I had a restaurant and movie all picked out. All I had to do was shower, dress, and drop off a bag for Dylan.

Before I finished packing the bag, I got the call. Both boys had gotten into it, probably over something insignificant. Both were screaming and crying. The other parent was sorry, but Dylan would not be able to spend the night. Could I come pick him up?

I sighed and hurried over. The mom was outside with him on the porch and his face and eyes were all red from crying. It was obvious he was crushed, but also still angry over whatever it was that had started the argument. A bundle of emotions. I hugged him, apologized to the mom, and took him back to the car.

I don't know if I ever found out exactly what launched the screaming match. Later that same summer, Dylan was diagnosed and his challenges making and keeping friends became more understandable. That is, they became more understandable once I learned that ADHD is more than just uncontrollable energy. That it affects social relationships and maturity levels. 

When we decided to medicate, the social aspect was as much of a driver as issues in school or behaviors at home were. More than anything, I wanted something that would help give Dylan some control that would allow him to have and be a friend. I wasn't even sure that the medication could promise that, although online resources suggested that it would.

The medication did help. It seemed to me that it gave him that split second's respite before he reacted. It gave him an opportunity to assess his behavior and decide what the better course of action would be. He was still bossy, but not as rigid and inflexible. I still heard about how his classmates called him slow, but he began to develop a cadre of friends, several who were a grade behind him.

At first, we limited medication to weekdays. We wanted him to have a chance to eat and sleep normally on weekends, and give his body a rest from the meds. A couple months into it, however, we went to a 7-day a week schedule. The decision came after a weekend camping with Cub Scouts. Dylan melted down over some slight and was just generally difficult to be around. We realized that the social activities didn't stop on Saturdays.  In fact, they were often more intense, fueled by candy and uneven schedules.

That's one of the reasons it's so amazing that both last summer and this summer's medication vacations have gone so well. Has the very fact of having been on medication helped show him what appropriate social behavior is? Or is it just maturity?

Whatever the source, I love it.

I remember telling him as just a little guy to go up to a group of kids and introduce himself. Shy as he is, he would rarely do it. While he is still painfully shy with adults, he's become much more self assured with other kids. He can easily go up to them and start playing with them.

Right now, from my balcony perch, I'm watching him share his floatie with a girl, laughing enthusiastically. Actual sharing! With a girl, no less!

I know there will be arguments and fights with friends. Times he will feel slighted, real or imagined. Occasions where kids will be mean, whether or not it has anything to do with his ADHD. But the fact that he has been able to make and keep several buddies, that he regularly sleeps over a friend's house, and the fact that he can go up to a strange boy and insert himself into their play...all of that, makes me feel more confident about his future.

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