Disclaimer: The subject of this post and my treatment of it may make some people feel uncomfortable. My son has “special needs”. He’s my son, I’m allowed to say what I want. I in no way mean to offend anybody else with special needs or their families. This is our story. Don’t feel bad for laughing. I want you to. It beats the hell out of crying.
I first realized there was something different about my son, Drew, very early on. In the womb, actually. At 20 weeks we had our first ultrasound just like everybody else. But unfortunately this ultrasound was not routine. We learned pretty immediately that he was a boy and were overjoyed. We also found out that his heart beat was good and his growth seemed to be right on target. The tech then said she would let my doctor go over the rest of the results with us in that very serious, “I’m not allowed to give you bad news” kind of way. I wondered what could be wrong when everything seemed so right. An agonizingly long amount of time later, we learned from my doctor that I had placenta previa which basically meant that the placenta was blocking Drew’s exit. (Sorry for using the word ‘placenta’ twice. Well, three times now. I know it’s icky.) There are such things as partial previas which sometimes move out of the way as the uterus (sorry) continues to grow, but I wasn’t lucky enough to have that kind. Mine was a complete previa and most likely wouldn’t go anywhere. This is why I don’t play the lottery. If there were a “prize” where you actually had to pay the lottery commission $27 million dollars, that’s the one I’d end up with.
Long story short, I began hemorrhaging at 30 weeks and was hospitalized for the rest of my pregnancy. See? No lottery for me. I was there for 7 weeks before Drew was born in an uneventful c-section on July 26, 2002. Half of the staff that I had gotten to know very well in my time there were present. I will never forget one of the nurses who held him up to me had tears pouring down her face and wore the biggest smile I had ever seen. I can honestly say that since day one Drew has made an impression on the people he meets. He was a happy, healthy, chunk of a baby. He was developing typically and slept like a champ. The only quirky thing we had noticed was that when his teeth came in up top he got his side incisors first instead of his two front teeth, prompting us to call him “Fang”. Other than that, I had no worries… until he started missing some milestones. His speech was slow to come and, compared to other children his age, he seemed to be extremely active and take life threatening risks even after being told no several times. (Time out, negative reinforcement, even spanking when the offense was egregious- nothing ever worked.) Over half of my life was spent chasing him around trying to keep him safe, others safe or objects intact. All of my concerns were discounted by many friends, family and even the pediatrician. “He’s a boy.” was an answer I heard often. (Even though nobody else’s boy acted like this.) Apparently having a penis gives you a “get out of jail free” card for all kinds of behaviors.
Finally when Drew was 3 our pediatrician had pity on me and referred me to a county agency called Project Enlightenment. I think it was because in the middle of Drew’s 3 year check-up he chucked a book from across the room that hit me square in the side of the head and I must have looked at the pediatrician like a wounded baby deer just begging to be shot. Leaving the office with that pamphlet made me feel like a failure as a parent even though our oldest child didn’t have behavior issues and we were a pretty happy family. Regardless, I was glad to have it but wondered what kind of place it would be. Would they be smoking hookahs? Were we were going to meet the Dalai Lama there? ‘Project Enlightenment’ is a pretty lofty name for a government agency. Turns out they were really great, even if I didn’t feel overly enlightened. I filled out form after form and multiple surveys as I sat behind a one-way mirror and watched Drew being tested. I hoped that something good would come of this because I had a feeling that this might not be the last one-way mirror I’d be watching him through. How young is too young for a police line-up?
Sitting there behind the glass I felt powerless. The test administrator put a paper in front of him and asked him to point to a clock. He got out of his chair, walked around the room, rolled around on the floor and tried to throw the chair before she calmly placed him back in the seat and then he pointed to a picture of a cat. I felt as if I let him down. But then I remembered all those times I would reach for a book and pat my lap. Drew would sit and listen to the story for about two seconds before he would pop up, run over to the book-case and before I could say “Goodnight Moon” he would have every book, DVD and toy on the shelves demolished and laying on the floor. Undeterred, I would attempt it the next day, and the next day and the day after that until finally there I was behind a one-way mirror looking at my child who couldn’t grasp the concepts of under, over, in or out. Although, I’m pretty sure if they had asked him to identify a picture of a “crazy mommy” he would have had no trouble with that whatsoever!
Not surprisingly he qualified for services and at our “first of too many to count now” IEP (individualized education plan) meeting we found out an itinerant teacher was going to come to his pre-school twice a week for 30 minutes to work with him individually on fine motor skills like cutting and also on counting since he couldn’t even count to five. Fantastic! What about the root of the problem- you know… inappropriate behavior? I would venture to guess that most of the moms of kids in Drew’s pre-school class did NOT get notes sent home outlining all the ways their child broke the rules that day. Here is an example of one such note:
Drew’s parents: Drew had a good hour and 15 minutes. (At least she gave him that.) At 10:40 he needed more intervention during free play at centers. At the Lego table he drove the boat he had built through 2 other children’s creations and scattered Legos from the table to the floor. In the bathroom he grabbed and pulled a child… he was using the urinal and walked into the “open” space (before he was done). He kissed Olivia on the mouth at circle time.
Sounds like a scene from “The Hangover” doesn’t it? Good thing he didn’t have a wad of dollar bills to stuff down Olivia’s pants. I’m sure learning how to cut and count will make those behavior issues a thing of the past! Clearly, that wasn’t good enough. We hired a one on one “shadow” for Drew during class- a wonderful woman who was already a teacher there and who had a degree in special education. We also started Drew with a private speech therapist. Our family budget was getting tighter and tighter. We had no idea what was to come.