Me: “You know you have A.D.H.D….but you also have some characteristics of Asperger’s”
10yo: “Assburgers?! (he laughs)”
Me: “I know…I thought the word sounded like that at first too (I acknowledge our similar sense of humor) ”
10yo: “…I’m not Autistic..”
Me: “There’s a huge range of Autism, like a spectrum…a rainbow…”(uses hands to show where Asperger’s might be)
Me: “You don’t have all the traits…I mean..you understand sarcasm and don’t take things literally…you can have good eye contact…but..you know how you are really interested in certain things…and you use big words when you speak?….those are a couple traits.”
It was the beginning of an ongoing dialogue that I would have with my son Joey that would also include sensory defensiveness awareness (he has never liked loud noises, is not an extremely affectionate kid, and likes his physical space) and a call to self-awareness. The fact that I even used the term ‘characteristics’ when talking to a 10 year old is just a hint of what I’m dealing with. I took an Asperger’s screening for him online in which the results showed ‘a moderate risk of probability for Asperger’s’. I know enough about Asperger’s to realize that children are not typically diagnosed until later in grade school…if at all. I know enough about Joey to realize that he may or may not even benefit from further investigation of this topic. Why? As of now, summer before fifth grade, he has been doing fairly well in school. We do give him a low dose medication to help him focus. Though he does still have some ‘2’s on his report card (1-4 scale) for listening and comprehension, at this point he does not have an IEP or 504 accommodations plan. This could change…time will tell.
Socially…he’s had his hiccups. I am grateful for my home daycare years, because Joey has made friends this way. He’s learned how to share his time, space, and materials in his own comfort zone. Perhaps the most aggravating thing to other peers is when Joey needs to disengage. He needs to be alone on the computer, might not want to play ‘hide and seek’ or go outdoors for very long. As he put it, “Do you know how much ENERGY it takes to entertain three people all day?” As a matter of fact…as a mother of four…who if not A.D.D at the least likes ample time to have quiet and reflective thought without interruption during the day…I think I just might understand his sentiment.
I’ve called him my ‘easy’ kid, because from birth…at home..he’s been easy. Joey was a smiley baby, who grew up to be a kid who always entertained himself through his hyperfocused sessions…be it setting up his Thomas the Tank Engine sets, sketching, video games. The not so easy part is when 5 out of 6 members of the family are on the couch or at the dining room table and we’d all ask, “Where’s Joey?” There was a rough patch, where realizing and embracing each other’s differences was really hard. An older brother criticizing the younger for his ‘quirks’. The younger brother moody and resentful of the loosened bond, of his older brother’s growing independence from the family…but that has been reconciled now. There’s always going to be sibling tiffs in my family, but more now with the 4 and 6yo who are like an old married couple at times.
Joey’s preschool teacher noted that there was probably something going on, but not quite sure where the finger should land. She shook her head at Autism, but the sensory issues and A.D.H.D was surfacing then…the trouble sitting still at circle time without touching his neighbor…those sort of things. I pushed down my inner Mama Bear when I noticed that there was a rectangular bright orange masking tape space for Joey at the carpet. The teacher had special education background, so I trusted her judgment…it was a strategy…she also suggested a playdate with another ‘quirky’ kid (my words not hers). I appreciated that the teacher was attuned to his needs. Kindergarten went by without a hitch, first grade led to A.D.H.D diagnosis. My educational background is basically all things early childhood, so even though I knew everything I needed to know and figured he had it..having to diagnose my child with A.D.H.D. was still an emotional experience. We didn’t medicate him right away, but after a little while it seemed like the right choice for us. We don’t medicate him on the weekends or during summer break, as Joey says, “I don’t need medication…it’s summer break…it’s time to let my imagination run wild”.
Medication is a touchy topic. Joey got a kick out of the pediatrician’s go ahead to ‘try drinking coffee’ (he didn’t like the taste that much). We went through a season of trying Melatonin. I talked to one mother who showed me her son’s progress report. The mother refuses to medicate her child. She feels that the pregnant teacher is just a little burned out and not effective in her behavior management. The progress report makes it blatant that the child’s behavior is completely distracting to his and other student’s learning. The mother complains that the teacher did not tell her earlier in the year about these problems, that the teacher thinks the child is acting up possibly more now because of a newly adopted child. And so it goes, the struggles of compromising between teacher, parent, and child. Sometimes this results in pulling the kid out, enrolling into a different school…a luxury that this financially compromised mother would have limited option. I recently talked to an expensive private school teacher who admitted, “We get the kids that don’t typical fit in to a ‘typical’ program”. I acknowledged the mother’s stance, gave her my own insight, and in the end, realized that I am only here..at her home.. to monitor her food program for her home daycare. Like we should do to other parents, but often don’t… I wished her the best on her own choices with no heavily laden judgment.
And in the end, it is about our own choices. I am greatly blessed with my four healthy children. Whatever trivial things I’ve endured is absolutely nothing compared to what some families will need to overcome. I understand the role of being your own child’s advocate. Each child has their own special need that the parent should be aware of. It can be difficult when family, friends, or professionals opinions clash with your own knowledge about your child. I’ll never forget the hurt in a mother’s eyes when she told me, “I don’t think the teacher even LIKES my child”. Admittedly at the time I thought, “Do you know the behavior your child is capable of?”…but years later…I get it. We want our kids to be appreciated and valued by others as much as we are supposed to do. I’ve questioned my subjectivity and in honor of other people’s opinions, I have entertained every possible imaginable fear and doubt in regards to my child.
“No, he does not need to be in a self-contained classroom.”
“No, medication has not turned him into a zombie.”
“No, he is not hypersexual. Yes, I understand some children with A.D.H.D are. Rather he does not particularly enjoy physical contact.”
“Yes, he does imitate things he hears on YouTube, though No…I doubt highly that he imitated that particular inappropriate action because he saw it on YouTube.”
“Yes, he does socially isolate himself, but he is capable of prosocial behaviors.”
“Yes, he did take a long time to learn to tie his shoes, but he is able to draw the most amazing sketches.”
“Yes, he is impulsive and might even describe himself as ‘short-tempered’ at times, no doubt like any other kid, he is capable of injuring yours.. I’m sorry he did that…but no, he is not an ongoing threat to your child or my children.”
“Yes, he is inattentive to that…it bores him.”
“Yes, he is engrossed in technology…he’s absorbing what interests him.”
“Yes, he appears to be socially awkward at times…but his deeper understanding of humanity amazes me.”
And so it goes. What I’m proud of is more than the fact that I understand my kid, but that Joey really does KNOW who he is. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff, except when he does. One of the hidden gems I did pull out of the handful of counseling sessions we had was that sometimes he might need to talk to somebody outside his family about his anxieties and other nuances that make up his life.
Let it be publicly known…I have no favorites in my house, my kids are no better or no worse than any other. They are my kids to raise and are each as much of my own spiritual teachers as I am theirs. Sometimes they are my unruly, hot mess spiritual teachers, each one in a moment’s notice can belly flop onto the couch with a loud announcement of ‘I’M BORED!’ and sometimes that’s just me. But together, we are learning and growing. There’s a point where you realize that your children are as much the world’s as they are yours. You can’t shelter them from criticism, opinions, and other realities…they are (probably) going to fly the coop. People will have their own ideas about them, and that is (I’m learning) completely out of my control. This kid might not even have a diagnosis of any kind, but as long as he understands how he best functions, learns, and is understood by the world, that is all that really matters.
Joey spent a long time with a cousin of mine in an engaging conversation.
Me: “You seem to like to talk to her”
Joey: “Yes, we have a lot in common….we have similar interests..”
I nod and smile, this cousin (now in her 20’s) was diagnosed as a child with PDD-NOS. She has attended college, has her group of friends, she’s doing just fine. I nod and smile as I know in my heart that he will find his kindred like-minded souls throughout life and (his words) “Maybe some day I can inspire people”. Too late bud…you’ve already done that for me.