I’m feeling pretty useless as a Mum at the moment and I’m not really sure where to go from here.
Alex, my 7 year old, is having a hard time.
He is kind, sweet, loving, generous, sensitive and unbelievably thoughtful, until he’s not.
On the flip side of all of this amazing, he can be stubborn, insanely over the top without any understanding of social cues, personal space or when to stop. He can’t cope with even the slightest changes to his routines, his mood can swing from perfect to dark and stormy in a matter of seconds with no obvious trigger. He is incredibly talented at drawing and colouring in but he’s also a perfectionist and a slight smudge outside of the lines, or the wrong shade of red on a Spiderman picture he’s colouring in can be enough for a breakdown.
School was an adjustment for Alex. Daycare sort of worked on whatever Alex wanted. Want to draw now? Ok! Want to go and play outside? Ok! Don’t feel like sitting on the mat right now? No problem.
School was suddenly a structure Alex couldn’t control, a faster paced environment that sometimes meant leaving things unfinished before he was ready to move on, and more rigidity than he was used to.
At first it seemed like ordinary kid stuff and all we needed to do was wait it out – give him some time to find his feet.
But he never did. He fell further and further behind his peers until one day his school called me and told me he was too far behind and they couldn’t wait for him any longer.
We moved him to a smaller school, with a completely different philosophy and they have been incredible.
After a settling in period, he seemed to be doing really well. There seemed to be more ups than downs and it got to a point where he was reading at his age level and even higher sometimes – he was participating in class, getting involved with the group activities and I thought we were in the clear!
And then I got a call towards the end of last term – I had to go pick him up from school because he had thrown a chair at another kid.
I got to the school and he was in the corner of the office howling. He was hysterical. He didn’t want to go home, he wanted to explain what had happened but he couldn’t find the words.
All of Alex’s life, he has had an incredible grasp of language. He understands and articulates just about everything better than most kids double his age. His ability to understand and take in information is astounding. Until it comes to talking about his feelings or answering a question when he feels under pressure. Then, he just goes blank.
The other kid told Alex that his birthday party would be better than Alex’s. It started out calmly. Alex told him they would be the ‘same coolness’. The other kid saw that he had got to Alex and pushed. He told him he would have more friends there, that he would have more games, and that Alex was dumb and his party would be dumb.
He was upset and didn’t know how to deal with what he was feeling and lashed out. He threw a chair. He knew it was wrong and was instantly upset with himself and so shut down and just cried. Hysterically. He couldn’t tell any of us what had happened – he couldn’t explain that he knew what he had done was wrong and that he was sorry, or that he was hurting because he wondered if what the other kid had said might be true.
He’s started to do things like climb trees to hide away to get out of cross country practice because he is afraid he won’t immediately be the best at it.
He causes trouble in maths class because he doesn’t think he’s ever going to be any good at it. He’s learnt that disruption is a good enough distraction from the fact that he isn’t right away the absolute best at everything he tries and he uses it. More and more.
He has friends, kids love him – his kindness, his creativity, but he never really bonds with anyone the way other kids do. He doesn’t seem to notice or mind, until he hears about sleepovers or playdates that he wasn’t invited to. Then his sensitive soul knows there is something wrong.
The school decided not to stand him down after the chair throwing incident, but I decided that it was time to see a GP.
All of Alex’s life, I’ve had different people in his life tell me what they think is wrong with him.
He’s definitely Autistic.
He’s nothing! He’s just naughty and you’re being dramatic.
There have been the people telling me that getting him tested would be cruel.
Putting a label on him would be detrimental. It would be there for life.
That I would be a terrible mother for putting him through that process and making him feel even more different.
The funny thing is, half the people telling me not to get him tested, are those telling me exactly what they think is wrong with him.
I know labels are scary. But what is even more scary, is the people with the most influence in Alex’s life making assumptions about what might be wrong, and treating them according to their ‘diagnosis’.
All of those things, while having some ‘symptoms’ in common, are so different. And the treatment, the coping techniques, the best ways to deal with them are all so different. What if we all decided Alex was ADD and it turned out he wasn’t. And the ways in which we’d decided to manage him made everything worse? More overwhelming for him?
Maybe it is nothing. Maybe he’s just a kid that needs a little extra routine and much firmer boundaries than some of his peers.
And maybe it’s something.
Maybe there is a way that I could make his life a little easier, his world feel a little safer, maybe there is a way we could make everything a little less overwhelming for him, with just finding the right coping methods for him. I need to know which it is so that no matter what anyone else has to say, I know how to be the Mum that Alex needs.
We got an appointment and we were referred to the Child Development Services for further assessment, but now we wait.
And while we wait, things seem to be getting worse.
I used to feel that no matter what was going on, I had a connection with Alex. I was the one person that could always get through to him.
But some days I miss things off his morning pep talk list, and it ends up being the thing that ruins his day. He can express in about 8,000 different ways why Spiderman is the best superhero, or what a habitat is – but he can’t remember that I just asked him to find his shoes. Or explain why suddenly his whole mood changed. Or what the word we just practiced two and a half seconds ago was.
We have lists everywhere, schedules up, routines nailed, we have morning chats and we practice how to breathe when we’re frustrated, how to walk away and reset before we react, we play maths games and work on reading and writing sight words..
It used to be enough, but it doesn’t seem to be anymore.
He seems to be ‘blank’ more and more. It seems like his world is more chaotic than ever.
I feel like I’m losing him and I don’t know what more to try.
So here, in the middle of the problem that seems so far from resolution, I sit and try and work out a new morning pep talk so we don’t leave anything off, I look at what food changes might make a difference, what brand of probiotics or fish oil might help improve his focus, how I can deal better with his breakdowns, or his mood changes, or what words I can give him to express the way he’s feeling when he needs to. How I can be a better Mum to this full of character, hilariously funny and witty, unbelievably artistic, loving, sweet, kind hearted little boy who can’t find a voice for his feelings, or see just how amazing he is.
And I wait for the psychologist to tell me we’ve reached the top of the waiting list.