He's Just a Boy

When my son was about 18 months old I started to realize he was a little different from the other kids his age. He had 2 cousins who were 9 days younger, and they spoke more, hit milestones sooner, and didn’t seem to get as angry or upset as he did. While he was a happy baby most of the time, there were moments when I wondered what could make a toddler so angry. His meltdowns were becoming more frequent and seemed to last a long time.

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When I expressed my concerns, people would tell me he was “just a boy.” Or that he was my first child and this was normal. But in my heart I knew it wasn’t “normal.” Something was wrong. I just didn’t know what.

When he turned 3 1/2 he attacked me with a kitchen knife. He was angry. No. It was more than anger; he was out of control. And after the meltdowns and anger, he seemed not to remember the episodes. So I looked for a therapist. Maybe talking to someone would help BJ and I parent better. However, the day the therapist told me “Well, your son had to learn this violent behavior somewhere” is the day we quit going to therapy.

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So we took parenting classes. I read books: Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood, Bringing Up Boys, Parenting the Strong-Willed Child and anything by the Eyres. I went a little crazy in the parenting section of Barnes and Noble. It helped . . . Ellie and Sam. Our parenting got better, more consistent. But it only seemed to help the other children. Our son was the same: angry, aggressive, upset and out of control.

We walked on eggshells at home. We never knew what was going to set him off. Oh, we had a list of things that would: bedtime, changes in routine, meals, socks, sharing, car rides, food, grocery shopping. But we were also surprised at times when a meltdown would occur and we hadn’t discovered the trigger yet.

During this time I wrote out a list of “symptoms” he had and took them to my pediatrician. I went prepared to “battle” and convince him that my son needed help. That something was wrong. I just didn’t know what or what to do next. As I read my list of concerns to my doctor, I felt overwhelmed and at my limit. If he didn’t help me, I didn’t know where I could turn.

Sometimes God prepares the way before we know we need it. My pediatrician listened carefully to what I had to say. After I was done with my list he said: “it sounds like you need help. Something is going on with your son and we need to find some answers.” And he started to talk about tests, applying for help with the state, finding help for me, etc. Then he told me that he had adopted children with special needs. He understood how I felt and he believed that doctors should listen to mother’s intuition.

The tears I had been holding back finally came as I realized I didn’t have to fight for help, but that he would willingly help me. He believed me and was on my side. Relief was overwhelming.

Part of our plan was finding a child psychiatrist. It wasn’t easy. Most had waiting lists 6 months long for new patients. No one took insurance. So we saved and waited and prayed.

I brought a dear friend with us on our first visit. She was part of our 911 group, read more about that here. She knew his behaviors and would watch him while BJ and I talked to the doctor. That first visit took 2 hours. But I felt such relief in talking with someone who could do something.

And she did. Our doctor suggested as part of treatment, that we start one medication for our son. After 1 week the behavior change was so dramatic I knew we were on our way to finding answers. And for the first time in a while, I felt like I could breathe. His behavior wasn’t perfect, but it was more manageable with fewer meltdowns.

Now I know meds are NOT for everyone. And I believe that meds are only PART of the treatment plan; behavioral interventions must be part of any plan. But we were at a place where no learning could take place until we could calm down the violent behaviors.

The child psychiatrist didn’t give our son his diagnosis of autism right away. That would take 3 more years of visits, tests, child developmental pediatricians and more tests. But we had begun to find answers for the first time, solutions to the behaviors that so thoroughly disrupted our family life.

Deciding to search for a diagnosis isn’t easy. I have friends who ignored (for a while) the signs their children needed help, because it is so hard to accept that something might be wrong. What was your journey for a diagnosis? How did you decide to search for help?

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