Monday, January 16, 2012

Dealing with it, whatever it is

I don't even know how to start this. I want to use some witty introduction, a comfortable joke to ease into it. Maybe some deft wordplay. But I have nothing. So let me tell you what's happening.

My son's got some stuff that he has to deal with. We saw some behavior-related issues last year, but with support from his teachers and other school staff, plus the invaluable help of a therapist that works wonderfully with children, he got better. It wasn't a perfect year, but he ended the year on a good note.

This year - first grade - we saw a lot of the same things. We tried the same kind of techniques that had worked last year, but they didn't seem to be working. There's physical stuff like hitting and getting in other kids' spaces. There's name-calling. Unprovoked incidents with other kids. It's all behavior that we just don't understand.

See, our son used to be the kind of kid who was described as "really centered." Or "zen." "He's so calm," the other parents would say at play dates. And suddenly, we were in our second meeting in two straight years with the principal, the teachers, plus various other school staff. Suddenly, we'd be dropping him off at school and other kids would run up to us and tell us that he was being mean to them. Or that he had written on their book. Or hit them. This happens a lot.

So ... we're talking to people. He's still seeing his therapist, but now we're going the next step. We're doing a deeper psychological evaluation on him, running some tests to see what else is going on with him. We might be dealing with ADD. Maybe some sensory issues (things like heightened sensitivity to noise or crowds). Or maybe something like Asperger's.

So in the last week, I've been coming to terms with the idea that my kid might have some bigger challenges than just having problems at school. It's tough. There was a nice article in a local magazine talking about adjusting to the idea that your kid has special needs. That's a great catch-all term. It covers everything: asthma, ADD, obesity, obsessive-complusive disorder, depression, anemia, blindness, everything. And when you look at it that way, how many of us have kids with special needs? More than a few. Just in my small circle of friends, I know easily half a dozen parents who have children with some challenge or another: cochlear implants, feeding tubes, learning disabilities, ADD. Stuff. Kids have stuff, and they deal with it.

Am I surprised? I guess I'm not. My brother (about whom I've written before) was diagnosed with hyperactivity and had major issues at school. He was probably bipolar, too, or something similar. His mother and I both have anxiety issues, and I'm almost certainly ADD. So, yeah, it's not a surprise when I really think about it.

Am I disappointed? Not in him. This is something that he's facing. Would I be disappointed if my child had leukemia? Or high blood pressure? Or if he had to use a wheelchair? Of course not. He's my kid and he'll always be my kid.

I guess I'm disappointed in the way you are when you expect a sunny day and it starts getting cloudy. You know you can't do anything about it, but you just wish that things had turned out a little differently.

What I know is that he's my kid and I need to figure out what's going on with him. I need to help him. We need to know what we're dealing with so that we can help him cope with it. If that means he ends up in some form of special education, so be it. If that means a different school, fine. Whatever he needs.

Right now, we're learning. As one of my wonderful friends put it, the worst part of this is the WTF period, when you know there's something but you don't know what it is. Once we know, then we can help. Once we know, we can develop strategies and make recommendations and suggest adjustments.

But my job hasn't changed. I will never stop loving this kid or wanting him to be the best possible version of himself that he can become. My job is to help him get there. And I'll do everything I possibly can to make that happen.