This just in:
Students who are ambidextrous are more likely to have language difficulty, struggle in school, and develop symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder by the time they are 15 or 16 years old, according to researchers at the Imperial College London. However, researchers say that while students might have a higher risk of difficulties, most of the students studied had no problems, and using both hands to write is not a definitive indicator that students will do poorly in school. BBC (1/25)
One of the advantages of Elizabeth having had a label is that it gave us an understandable constellation of behaviors that she might exhibit- and a selection of responses to choose from. Slow verbal processing? Indicative of autism. Slow down, break the instructions into several steps. Writing her own jokes? Indicative of giftedness. Encourage and analyze. Meltdowns when she’s tired? Well, that’s just her. Give her more sleep. While she has challenges to deal with, generally, they fall into a pattern and the labels she has had help make sense of them.
My son Ray? I don’t talk about him as much in the book or here because he just doesn’t fit as cleanly into a category. His behaviors are so all over the place that it’s hard to figure him out. I am actually more anxious about Ray than Elizabeth because I don’t know what to do most of the time- nor do I know how to ask for help. I don’t know what to call “it” that he and we deal with.
My pregnancy with Ray was a surprise. We had completely planned him, but not his timing. Elizabeth was eight months old, and I found out that the complete exhaustion I was feeling was not all due to a fussy baby, but that I was already three months pregnant. It was right after 9/11 and the whole world was topsy turvy and to find out that Ray was coming was a complete shock. And it was a difficult pregnancy. I was sick constantly. I was scared and anxious the whole time since Elizabeth’s babyhood was challenging. And I was tired- so tired.
When he was born, he was beautiful. Less fussy that Elizabeth, as long as he was being held. As long as he was in my arms, he was a curious, happy kid. Put him down, and he turned into a screaming, wailing, hysterical knot. We called him Possum because he would have been quite happy being permanently attached to me. I learned to cook, to clean and to potty train a toddler with one hand. He didn’t startle as easily as Elizabeth had, but he was so curious about things, he didn’t eat much. He would be eating and get distracted by my face, my necklace, the dog, and turn his head away to watch the new thing. He would fall asleep quickly when he was being fed. And when he was uncomfortable, he let us know! He would fuss and fuss until the irritatant was gone. We tried Ferber’s Cry it Out method after months and months of his being rocked to sleep, only to wake up with a howl when I put him down. The Cry it Out method worked for a while, until he got sick and we’d be back to Square One.
And he got sick a lot. He had numerous ear infections and pneumonia when he was six months old. His first Christmas was spent at the emergency room, where they gave him a breathing treatment, which made him scream, and then me rocking him, listening to him breathe because it was so burbly. It became a pattern- he had pneumona every Christmas for three years in a row. I took him for allergy testing the October before his fourth Christmas because I needed to know if it was the Christmas tree? The wrapping paper? We were in Florida, so it wasn’t the chill in the air. Naturally, the testing turned out negative, and he was fine that Christmas.
He also didn’t eat much. He would latch on, and gulp, until he wasn’t hungry anymore and then lose interest. He wouldn’t, however, eat until he was full. Which meant that he was constantly hungry and constantly cranky. I was told at the time that “Babies will eat”- only mine didn’t. He started solid food “on time” and weaned himself at 15 months because he had no interest at all in nursing. We taught him to sip drinks and he continued being fussy about what he would eat. From his first birthday to his second birthday, he gained not one ounce, despite our constantly putting food in front of him. We tried backing off and letting him be hungry. We tried forcing him to eat. We tried with silverware and without silverware. We tried letting him select and we tried colorful food. Nothing worked. No weight gain.
At 2 years old, he was officially diagnosed “Failure to Thrive”. During this time, we were deep in the diagnosis and treatment of Elizabeth’s autism and I was losing my mind. We took him for allergy tests, we took him for celiac disease testing, we took him for Multiple Sclerosis testing- all came back negative. On one hellish day, I took him to the doctor where they gave him a medicine to drink, which involved holding his nose and almost choking him. Then, I had to take him to the playground in a snowsuit to sweat so that they could get a sample of his sweat. He didn’t like the snow suit and just sat and screamed, which did result in him getting hot. I had Elizabeth happily playing all over the playground so I had to keep an eye on her. Back to the doctor for a blood test, which he screamed throughout, and then off to Elizabeth’s speech therapist- which we were late for and got “the look”. and then I dropped them off at the babysitters, and went to teach a college class. I was barely conscious and exhausted from the screaming and the trauma of being at doctors all day long.
And… nothing. No results, just nothing. We took him to a pediatric gastroenterologist who didn’t see the need for a biopsy, but was going to do it if we pushed. He looked little 2-year-old Ray right in the eyes and said “If you don’t start eating, you will be put into a hospital where we will put food in a tube down your throat. Do you want that to happen?” Ray looked terrified, shook his head and cried. That night, he came to us and said “I eat, Mama. I eat” and choked down food. He gained an ounce the next week and the crisis was over.
But to this day, eating is a major ordeal. I have cried and cried over his eating. He will “pocket” his food in his cheek, chew and chew and chew without being able to swallow it until he finally spits out a completely chewed up mass. He will eat “yummy” things like candy with no problems, but stuff you “gotta” eat- nope. I have hidden vegetables in desserts to no avail. As soon as the taste is off, or he sees a strand of orange or green, he’s done and refuses to eat. And “typical” kids things like mashed potatoes, rice, pizza, biscuits, or muffins? Nope. Chik-Fil-A chicken nuggets are about the only thing I can guarantee that he will eat. And cookies. Always cookies.
It is a major source of power struggles in our family. He does not recognize when he is hungry and will get ferociously cranky until I am forcing food down him, when he then does an about-face and becomes sweet. I have let him get hungry and he throws a tantrum. Once, over breaking a toy when he was hungry, he had a 3 hour screaming hysterical tantrum- all because he had missed lunch and I was tired of fighting with him. I offer food- he refuses. Or he eats until he’s not hungry anymore, not until he’s full. At the age of 7, I am encouraging him to recognize when he’s hungry and to take matters into his own hands- to go and get a snack. He’s not great about it, and at some point, he can’t think clearly enough anymore to go and help himself. The only time he can be reminded is right before he loses it and then he’ll get himself a snack. Sometimes.
Diabetes? Celiac? The tests say “no”. I lean towards anorexia myself, but you can’t treat anorexia when the child is seven. He’s still small, still skinny and still fussy. And oh, the irony of having a child who can’t eat… when I battle weight gain and emotional eating every day.
When he was four, he was incredibly resistant to a routine doctor’s visit- screaming up a storm and going into hysterics. I took him to Play Therapy because it was so severe and the doctor, hearing Ray’s negative experiences with doctors, suggested it. The play therapist worked him about four times and then told me that “He’s a great kid! Intelligent, highly verbal, active imagination. Nothing wrong or anything to work on that I can see”. And I took him home.
But there WAS something- he was… different. He had been with me completely for a year, but at a year old, I started a job and took him to daycare where he cried unconsolably for hours after I dropped him off. His hysteria at my leaving him continued all the way to first grade, when he would cry when he went into school- every morning. Second grade has been much easier, but just the other night, he had to be peeled off of me and returned to our well-loved friend who was acting as our babysitter because my husband and I went out on a date. We don’t go on dates often, and we don’t get babysitters who last long. He resists new things to the point that he won’t do a sport unless his sister or his daddy are involved somehow.
And he is incredibly sensitive. There was one time that he came out of school all happy and cheery and he went to slide down the stairs banister. I jumped and grabbed him and said “No, Ray!” He immediately went into his “Black look” where he glowers, loses his language, grunts and is all around nasty. It takes him hours to get out of his Black Moods- and it was all triggered by a “No”. I have learned to discipline him not by correcting him, but by asking him “Why is that not a good idea?”. Any hint of disapproval and he shuts down. Any possibility of losing, and he doesn’t want to play. He collects small things and hoards them- he has a desk drawer full of nothing but little tiny things- erasers, pieces of rocks, paperclips.
This past Spring, he was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder, which covers some of these issues, but not all. He also has Tourette’s Syndrome, which means he tics when he’s nervous or anxious. He’s also seriously close to Attention Deficit Disorder, but no sign of hyperactivity. But none of these labels are quite right…
And he’s also stunningly bright. He was talking in full complete sentences when he was 18 months old. He’s reading 161 words per minute as a second grader, which is the rate of a 5th grader. He’s very good socially and always has friends who want to play with him. He loves to cuddle and has a hilarious sense of humor. And despite inattention in things like finishing classwork, completing puzzles, or cleaning his room, he can sit and listen to me read a story for hours, sighing when I stop as he has to come back to this world.
But he won’t read challenging books himself, he loses track of completing projects, he has a very hard time setting goals for himself. He can’t find the words to describe his feelings. He didn’t do well on subtraction facts until we started charting them at home so that he could see how much better he was getting. And even then, he wanted something for it- a dollar, a toy truck… something. He wants to clean his room and gets distracted in something.
But he craves positive attention- absolutely craves it. He will glower ferociously when a simple “No” is told to him, but a positive discipline plan works miracles for him. We have reward systems for cleaning, brushing his teeth, being nice to his sister… we pick and choose the battles, but most things are not “problems” unless I have to fuss at him. His response to being fussed at is a complete shut down or melt down.
And so, we’re frustrated and have tried on many possibility for labels. ADD? Probably, but the medication decreases appetite- absolutely not a possibility. OCD? ODD? Not autism, but certainly traces of it. Certainly anxiety disorder, but more than that…
And I worry… oh I worry about him. He seems to be a kid ripe to try drugs, early sex, anything that makes him feel connected and complete. I try to help him find things to do that help- playing drums, guitar, reading… but he’s not “hooked”. His behaviors make me ponder addictions- how we all find something- exercise, work, music, sex, drugs… to fill the loneliness.
And… he writes with his right hand, but reaches for things with his left. The soccer coach called him “goofy-footed” because he shoots with his left foot. And now, I read the research above and wonder… is THIS the problem?…
And so I will continue to worry… much as all mothers do, but he is a child for whom I have no pattern, no constellation of behaviors that I can point to and say “There’s the label that will help him find ways to help himself”. Goofy-footed is as good as anything else at this point.