After years of challenges and questions, our seven-year-old son, Anders, has radically transformed. He is happy and thriving, and it seemingly happened overnight. This first-grade year, he’s made all As, he’s reading, he’s made new friends, and he’s dedicated to karate and soccer, despite the fact the other kids are much more athletic.
When Anders was 2 and we were living in Alabama, we noticed he was behind, in speech as well as physical and emotional development. We started therapy, and shortly after our second son, William, was born, he got kicked out of his first preschool for biting and temper tantrums. They had “never seen a child quite like Anders before.”
At age 4 when we lived in Orlando, he was kicked out of another school, again for behavior and lack of impulse control. Parents whispered, “Is he autistic? What’s wrong with him?” Others were angry, called him a bully, and wanted him sent to a school “for bad kids.”
We hired a childhood psychologist to help us with behavior, and around that same time, he was diagnosed with Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome, an anxiety-based disorder that made him vomit incessantly in stressful situations, including family vacations and holidays.
We decided to give him a long break from school and hold him back a year. At age 5 at a Montessori school, the director discovered he had Sensory Processing Disorder, a condition in which his brain has trouble organizing all the stimuli in the world around him. We added occupational therapy to his speech therapy and behavior therapy. Yet, his frustration level was so high and his impulse control so low, he continued having severe meltdowns at school, at home and in public.
One day in May, he knocked over a bookcase and hit his teacher. He was completely devastated that he couldn’t attend the field trip. While he was rightfully punished, he was remorseful and overwhelmed with emotions. He admitted the fact he couldn’t control the “bad Anders that comes out sometimes.” All the while, the school and my amazing friends and family showed him constant love and unfaltering support.
As we were moving (again!) from Orlando to Louisiana, two private schools indicated that, while Anders was one of the smarter kids they had interviewed, they were either not willing or able to work with our son. This was another painful blow in a town where I wished for a fresh start.
So we bought a house in the best public school district — closing a mere day before school registration. And we sought more tools for Anders. We invested in an expensive psych exam and a genetic screening to determine the best ADHD medicine, to help control his impulses.
As it’s turned out, we haven’t needed any of that.
Because when Anders started first grade, something clicked. He has made an A in conduct every single day but two, and on those days he was “excessively talking” to a new friend. (We couldn’t help but be proud of that!) After nine weeks he got a reward for making his reading goal, completing his homework every night, and behaving almost perfectly. He went from barely reading this summer to now a level D. He must be on reading level J to move on to second grade, but he has set his goal higher.
He even asked his teacher for more challenging books to read at home. One night, he threw them on the floor in frustration. He cried for a minute, then he picked them up again. “If I can’t be the best reader in my class, then I’ll at least be the best one in my reading group!”
Anders is not out of the woods yet. He’s still highly emotional, and while he’s controlling his frustrations, anxiety, and disappointments much better, he’s had a few big breakdowns at karate as well as at school because we got there one minute after the bell rang. And although his vocabulary is excellent and he has many ideas to share, he’s still on a 3-year-old level of speech articulation and 30% intelligibility. We have work left to do.
I bare my soul because I see other kids like Anders, and I see other parents like us who struggle. Some kids are birds, kids like our five-year-old William, who are born ready to spread their wings and fly. But others are stuck in a cocoon, and we must endure dark, dark times. We wait and we wait and we wait. We continue therapy, we continue research, we continue to nurture, and nothing happens. We wait. Every day, we surround our child with friends, teachers, therapists and family members who wrap them in love, so much love. And one day, one fine day, they emerge as butterflies.