A Slow Descent

Posted on | February 6, 2023 | No Comments


When I was pregnant with C, I had horrible heart palpitations. It was like a 9 month panic attack and as much as I’d prayed for and loved the baby I was growing, I was really ready for him to be born. Like REALLY ready. He was a great baby. He slept better than J did, he smiled and cooed and in general won over the hearts of everyone.

At two years old, his daycare teacher told me “C doesn’t like to be redirected.” And I thought it was funny because he’s stubborn, you know, and full of his own ideas on how things should be done. Still, nothing much out of the ordinary until B was born one minute and the pandemic crashed in the next. By the time he was four, C had spent an inordinate amount of time at home with me. When he returned to a daycare setting, it was to a classroom without many of his old friends. He took “not liking redirection” up to level seven. First, it was throwing tantrums. Then he struck at other kids, teachers, and items. By the time he hit Pre-K, he was sent home several times for tearing things off walls, pulling chairs off of tables, and screaming inconsolably.

Things seemed to calm down for C around mid-year and we thought he’d grown up and learned to manage his emotions. We were feeling really good about him starting Kindergarten in the fall at our zoned school, opting not to let him follow in his big brother’s footsteps, but to blaze his own trail at a new school.

The week before school started, we found out his school didn’t offer after care. After scrounging around for other options, we finally contacted our beloved elementary school that had so loved J. They managed to find a space for him and everything was on track for him to start kindergarten as planned.

Only it turned out, C hadn’t figured out how to manage his emotions.

The first month of school was really hard on C, his teachers, and me.

The second month was even harder. We got a “one more strike and he’s out” letter from the school after he tried to bite the assistant principal.

By Thanksgiving, we had him set up for psychological testing because we didn’t know what else to do. What do you do? He’s really bright. He can tell you more than you’d ever want to know about dinosaurs. He’s reading, though he still has to sound out a lot of things. He’s verbal and loving and mostly kind. But when he doesn’t get to do exactly what he wants, he cannot manage.

I know.

It sounds silly.

I had more than one friend tell me that a few good spankings would straighten him out.

But it was more than that. He was wrapping himself up in the rug at school. He was sobbing uncontrollably over the smallest of things.

When we got the test results back, we found out what we’d long suspected:

C was diagnosed with “high functioning” autism.

“He’s close to what they used to call Asperger’s” the psychologist told us, as she spelled out eleventy-million diagnoses that sit against my skin and atop my child like a stack of library books to be balanced.

How can one child carry so many labels without toppling over?

I cried when I read his report because even with a diagnosis, even with a million diagnoses, I still don’t know how to help him. I want him to have friends and love who he is but I worry so much that the straight-laced ideas I have of what childhood means: the sports, the friends, the academics… are going to hinder C from being who he needs to be. Are my ingrained beliefs going to harm my sweet middle in ways I don’t even see? In ways I can’t see because of the lens of my own life and my own childhood?

It feels like we’re wading through syrup and I don’t know how to get myself out of it, I only know that I have to get out so I can hold out some help for C. We can’t both just sink here.

But it’s hard because I’m not just stuck in the trudge of these diagnoses, I’m stuck in the squelch of other people’s doubt. The well-meaning “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him,” the “he seems fine to me,” the “Who was this psych you saw? Are you sure she’s credentialed?”

I’m stuck in this no-woman’s land of wondering what it means when they think there’s nothing different about my child. What is it they think is the root of his behavior? If it isn’t a diagnosis, if it isn’t something built differently in his brain, then I know what they’re thinking:

“He needs better parenting.”

And it’s that well-meaning undercurrent, that whisper aloud of my own fearful doubts, that may ultimately drown me.




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    Spilled Milk (and Other Atrocities) by Law Momma is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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