Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Resolutions? (A blog about finding out your kid is different)

I feel compelled to blog, though I don't know where to begin. Should I be witty? Should I be candid? Should I just stream of consciousness this post? There's so much and nothing at all in my head right now. But where to start?

The quest to actually follow through on my New Years resolutions has fallen way, way short. Mostly this is because life has demanded my attention be focused elsewhere, and all at once. The people in white lab coats say that the human brain is not capable of actually, literally multitasking. I don't think they did those scans on full time moms with full time jobs. Or maybe my brain is just really good at switching between tasks.

...Which, come to think of it, is not necessarily true. Because I forget a LOT of stuff most of the time. I drop balls like a novice juggler. Hell, I'm not even making decent analogies right now.

Speaking of brains, The Nugget was recently diagnosed with ADHD (inattentive type) and ODD (for those of you who don't know, that's oppositional defiant disorder. The first step on the path to conduct disorder. For those of you who don't know what conduct disorder is, introduce yourself to most of the habitual offenders in our prison system today). I won't even begin to wax knowledgable about either of these disorders, because I'm still learning all I can about these disorders. But looking back on my poor sweet boy's life, in perspective and through the lenses of these labels, so, so much makes sense now.

There's a certain level of comfort in finally having a label for the thing that has made parenting The Nugget for these last 11 years so difficult. He couldn't remember to do basic tasks, like shutting the front door or to change his socks. He was almost four before he was fully potty trained. He was almost nine before he learned to tie his shoes without help.

Then there were the issues at daycare and at school. Every new school year, I braced myself for the onslaught of notes and conferences that seemed to always accompany The Nugget through school. Every week - sometimes every day - there was a new note. Really, though, it wasn't a new note so much the same note on a different day tinged with a growing frustration that The Nugget just couldn't seem to get his shit together.

Before that, it was at least once a week that he was being sent home from daycare because his behavior was just so abysmal the teachers couldn't control him.

And nothing seemed to work to change the behavior. No amount of punishment or reward; begging or bribing would make The Nugget behave. I remember one time, when The Nugget was about four or so, when, sobbing with frustration about being reprimanded again, he wailed, "but Mama! I'm being haved!" For him, he really was trying. He was being his version of "haved". I didn't know then what I know now. And now that I know, the story isn't as cute anymore.

I chalked it up to The Nugget being a boy. The Monkey outgrew all of this behavior, surely The Nugget would, too! Then I chalked it up to the teacher being an asshole, but then The Nugget had some really fantastic teachers and I couldn't use that as an excuse anymore. I clung desperately to the idea that maybe he was just Huck Finn and why on earth would I want to change that? I was in serious denial that there was something actually wrong with him.

And now I have a label; I have a reason for it all. But that label and the reason don't make things any easier. In fact, I have a tremendous amount of guilt in letting it go on for as long as I did before I really truly insisted on getting him tested. Though, letting it go on and letting his record get supremely thick helped us skip right through all the bureaucratic bullshit red tape. We passed go. We collected our diagnoses. He has an education plan which will help get him through elementary school, at least.

Depending on what you're reading, the root causes for ADHD and ODD aren't entirely clear, but they do know that it happens in the brain - whether it's a structural cause or a chemical imbalance is still a matter of debate. They don't know exactly what contributes to these defects - everything from maternal consumption of caffeine and nicotine while pregnant to genetic factors have been cited - but everyone seems to now agree that it's not just teachers and parents looking to medicate kids to the point of zombie-hood.

The Nugget's... actually, let me pause. He deserves to be spoken of as something more than an anecdote. The Nugget's name is Liam... the version of ADHD that Liam has is the inattentive type. We're luckier than some folks there because he really doesn't need medication. He's capable of sitting still. He's capable of focusing some of the time (and only if there are absolutely no distractions). He has some mild tics and socialization issues, but nothing that is considered clinical (just borderline) in that arena. Liam also has a very difficult time processing his emotions in a "normal" way, and suffers a fair amount of anxiety most of the time.

But what makes a disorder like this more difficult for families like ours is there's no outward appearance of abnormality. There's nothing that screams "my child has special needs! Back the fuck off and show him some respect!" because he looks normal. People expect him to be able to operate on the same level as most folks. He just can't. He can fake it. He can find ways to cope in the world. But he will. Never. Be. Normal. And folks will just keep on wondering why the weird kid is weird.

That's a hard pill to swallow as a mama. Especially at this stage of the game. My child has special needs. My child will never be normal. My child will always struggle in the world. My child will always have to work extra hard. My child will often be at a loss to explain why he did something and why it was wrong (or why it was right) and will get in trouble for it. Because he looks normal.


I don't know how to sum this post up. It's open-ended, I suppose, because there's still so much left to learn. I'm still grieving for my boy and am still processing all of this information in a space of grief. No, he's not dying - and I am lucky for that! And he doesn't have a terminal illness. But his life is, and always was, inexorably changed.