Remember when your child was a baby? Beautiful, and. . .perfect. Or you hoped he or she was perfect, and you prayed about it. Please God just let him be healthy, I prayed. And he was. He was eight pounds of flawless boy child, lungs on fire, every finger and toe accounted for. Thank you God, I breathed.
The first year a few problems cropped up. We went through reflux – not fun. He had to have a minor procedure to release his tongue from his lower palate. Nothing major. No concerns.
The second year was when I started noticing issues. He didn’t just startle at loud sounds or sudden movement, he panicked. True, unstoppable panic. He parambulated in circles to the left, and he waggled his left hand incessantly. Waggle, waggle, waggle, waggle. It was cute, but it seemed somewhat, well, autistic. And he stopped napping in the daytime. NO.NAPS.AT.ALL. He slept through the night, but he slept much less even then than we expected. By then, we had his baby sister Susanne, and his diminishing sleep hours nearly killed me. His father and I whispered about autism at night, afraid to say the words in the light of day and make them real.
But I checked in with his pediatrician. Clark Kent exhibited his behaviors in front of the doctor. Now, I didn’t specifically ask the pediatrician about them. If I had, he might have given me an answer I didn’t want to hear. And wouldn’t he tell me his concerns, if he had them?
My father is a physician. He spent countless hours with Clark Kent. He was intimately familiar with his behaviors. But we both followed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
As the years passed, we had Susanne to compare him to, and the two pre-schoolers were markedly different. She didn’t have the terrors. She didn’t have odd repetitive motions. She had more focus. She slept like I expected a toddler to sleep. I chalked it up to gender differences.
More years passed. Now we had school peers to compare him to. We had the opinions of his teachers. He went to a small private school where he had played with the same kids since pre-k. He was much the same in many ways to boys his age, except MORE. More disorganized, more distractable, more repetitive, more panicky. And less. Less focused, less courageous, less engaged. Still, wouldn’t someone tell me if they thought he was different?
In hindsight, my reaction – my denial, avoidance, lack of reaction – may sound negligent. Many of you are far more assertive in seeking answers. Maybe we are different that way, and I’m OK wtih different. I was comforted that I was surrounded by competent professionals in medicine and education, and frankly I was looking for ways that he fit the norm, not ways in which he didn’t.
We finally sought a diagnosis for ADHD in the fifth grade. We didn’t seek an Autism spectrum diagnosis until his teens. Does he have ADHD? Yes, probably, most likely. Is he on the autism spectrum? Yes, probably, most likely Asperger’s. It’s not like you can get a blood test for these things, so, the diagnosis is there, but with a verbal hedge from the physician.
So now I get to look back and question myself, like all of us mommas do. Clark Kent is 16 at the time I write this. I’ve mothered him nearly to adulthood, and I have to ask myself: did I know? And the answer is clear:
Yes. Yes, I knew. From the time he was 18 months old, I knew. A mother knows, even if she doesn’t know. But a mother fears, too. She fears the boo boos, and not just the ones that you can stick a Sesame Street Band-Aid on. She fears labels. She fears for his feelings. Will he be teased? Bullied? Misunderstood? Laughed at? Minimized? Ignored? Pushed aside? She fears for his future. What does this mean for his education? His friends? His love life? His career? His own children someday?
I am an experieced ADHD/special needs momma now, and I will tell you what I have learned from this knowing, this denial, and this journey: I have learned that what my child needed most was my love and support, not my perfection. That he bears no grudge or regrets. I knew. And I needed to (and did) learn to trust myself, not lean on the opinions or even diagnosis of others, and I needed to reject the crippling power of guilt. I’m still working on that one.
But maybe knowing – and loving — was enough. Maybe it was enough.
Until next time,
Pamela aka “Clark’s Mom”
Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes the Clark Kent Chronicles on parenting ADHD wonder kids, thanks to the crash course given to her by her ADHD son and his ADHD father. She focuses on the post-elementary school years. Watch for her upcoming books in May 2012: The Clark Kent Chronicles, How To Screw Up Your Kids, Love Gone Viral, Hot Flashes and Half Ironmans, and Puppalicious And Beyond. Visit her blog, Road to Joy, but hang on for the ride as she screws up her kids, drives her husband insane, embarrasses herself in triathlon, and sometimes writes utter nonsense.