Monday, July 30, 2012

This is going to be a LONG one, but it'll be worth it. Promise.

Connor is our firstborn.  Before him, we could only guess at what it would be like to be parents.  Like so many other generations of naive and childless young adults , we felt we had a fairly sturdy plan of attack ready when it came to raising our future kiddos ("MY child will NEVER behave that way in public!" Etc.).  Sure, we didn't know it all, but we felt we had enough experience around kids (both of us have a small background in childcare) to handle the basics.  After a bit of a rocky start at conceiving, we were delighted to learn we'd be having a little boy, and I set about doing countless "important" things like choosing a theme for the nursery and scrawling copious side notes in my cherished copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting.  I memorized how to diaper, bathe, feed and swaddle, and every centimeter of that nursery was sparkling perfection by the time we neared the due date.  Then Connor was born.  Suddenly, absolutely nothing I knew was right.  Connor cried that first night he was born.  All night.  He cried the next morning, slept two hours, then picked right back up where he left off.  This continued for nearly the duration of our hospital stay.  I was amazed at his stamina. But he was a beautiful, perfect baby and all ours, and I was completely in love with him, whether he howled like a cat or not.  We brought him home.  The crying continued at intervals, especially at night, and he never slept more than two or three hours at a stretch.  I wanted to deny that my precious bundle had colic, but the truth was there.  I could do very little to soothe his little tummy; he would have to outgrow it himself.  Sometimes the two of us would sit up in the middle of the night, crying together.
The colic did diminish with time, but his refusal to sleep never did.  As Connor got older, other peculiarities emerged, like his absolute intolerance of bright lights (riding in the car on a sunny day was always an adventure) and loud noises (fireworks were especially traumatizing).  At six months, I introduced solid food into his diet, which he received with absolute rejection.  His pediatrician assured me that some kids simply prefer the warmth and comfort of breastfeeding over a cold spoon, and he encouraged me to keep offering it.  After several months of our battling and getting nowhere, however, Doctor Dudgeon's pen was poised to recommend an evaluation for sensory integration problems. I left the office with a name and phone number.  The next morning, Connor decided to allow me to feed him a few spoonfuls of rice cereal.  We cancelled the appointment.
Despite Connor's "opinionated" nature, he was a wonderful kid.  Clearly a bright bulb.  He studied our mouths and imitated the sounds we made, and at barely eight months, he said his first word: "Doggie."  The first time he said it, it came out more like "Guck."  He was pointing at the dog.  I thought it was cute, but at first I didn't recognize that he was trying to communicate.  After several more "gucks," it became apparent to me that he was trying to call the dog.
"Do you mean 'dog,' Connor?  Doggie?"
"Doggie," he responded with startling clarity.  Holy cow.  After that, he learned 3-5 words a week.  He was speaking complete sentences well before his first birthday.  At 16 months, he recognized every letter of the alphabet.  At 2, he began reading.  At 3, he was able to read from the Bible.  He was obsessed with letters and words, their shapes, their meanings, everything. 
"Obsessed," in fact, quickly became the perfect buzz word for Connor.  It started with the alphabet.  Then it was trucks--at 18 months old he memorized the names of about 50 trucks in his favorite board book.  I enjoyed watching people's jaws hit the floor when he lisped "That's a combine harvester truck right there."  As a preschooler, it was all things biology.  He knew about blood cells and their functions, he could list off various systems of the body and which organs did what.  He was known to flip his preschool coloring pages over and draw DNA double helix models.  The boy was driven.  We were sure he was going to blow the lid off when he reached grade school.
Then we started getting frequent expressions of concern from his teachers:

"Connor doesn't want to join the rest of the class in our activities.  He prefers to do his own thing and he is resisting following instructions."

We already knew he was headstrong.  His tantrums at home could be earth-shattering.  But was it really as big a deal as they were implying?

"Connor has considerable difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next." 

"Connor insists on using the bathroom stall by the wall and will have a meltdown if we make him use a different one."

"He contradicts his teacher." 

All frustrating, albeit slightly amusing...but then things got a little worse:

"Connor cut another boy with scissors during craft time this morning, quite on purpose and unprovoked.  When he was told that he had hurt the child, he did not seem remorseful."


It was unusual.  Horrifying.  And Connor did not seem to understand what the big deal was.  Red flags were flying around my head like dust particles.  I wanted to panic.  I felt like a bad mom.  Was I raising a sociopath?  We began a series of tests on Connor, measuring everything from attention span to IQ.  After it all came to a conclusion, there was no conclusion.  We were advised to get Connor enrolled in public school as soon as possible, to alleviate his apparent boredom and steer his unoccupied mind toward more constructive pursuits.  We were assured that we had a well-adjusted, very advanced young fellow on our hands, whose frustration with his lack of academic challenge finally got the best of him.  Friends and family all cheered.  "See, I told you he was just bored."  Something in my heart remained unsettled.

Fast forward a year and a half.  Here we are, poised to tackle second grade.  Connor's done a great deal of growing up since we plunked him into that Kindergarten class mid-year.  Going to "big school" really did help him, and we saw a lot of the emotional issues diminish.  But a few things I observed continued to bug me:

  •   The way he remained disinterested in participating in social groups unless they were playing his favorite game of "Sonic Tag."
  • The way he prattled on and on about a particular topic, whether anyone was really listening to him or not.
  • The way a small error in a drawing or story he was composing could send him into complete meltdown.
  • How he would often close his eyes in public if he felt that too many people were staring at him.
  • How uncomfortable he was with hugs, even when shared with familiar people
  • How difficult he found it to relate to/interact with his baby brother, even though his deep pride and love was evident in other ways.

A conversation I had with a friend of mine as well as an online article I happened to stumble across caused me to revisit a possibility I had refused to consider from the beginning, although it's been there all along, haunting me:

This child could have Asperger's Syndrome.

If you're unfamiliar with this disorder, it's actually a mild form of autism.  Sufferers are often of average or above average intelligence, and it's characterized by a bizarre set of social oddities.  Reading the description made me feel like someone had been observing my child prior to writing it.

I feel so strongly that we could be headed toward a diagnosis with Connor.  And something about that makes me feel oddly encouraged.  Maybe because now we can move forward with a purpose.  I want so much to help him be the best Connor he can be.  He definitely challenges me to be the best Mom I can be.

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