"WOOOOOOOOOOOH. Woo Woo Woo Woo. I'm a policeman," my four year old screamed at his chair, spoon poised in his hand, half eaten macaroni and cheese in his bowl.
My husband jumps. "Charlie, we don't scream at the table," I say patiently, trying to keep my tone straight.
"WOOOOOOOOOH. WOO oooooooooo."
"Charlie," my husband says, a little agitated. It had been a long day at work. My school day wasn't any better.
"CHARLIE," I cut him off. My tone is not straight anymore. "You will sit on the steps. No more screaming. Let's finish our dinner if you want a treat."
He takes a spoonful. "WOOOOOOOOOOOOH."
I go back and forth with him, explaining how he needs to act at the dinner table, helping him with his spoon. Helping him eat with the airplane noises, the truck noises, the "whatever" noises. My husband's not saying much. He wants to tell me not to baby him. Not to help him. I shouldn't be helping him. He's four years old. But he is not what many people will say is a "normal" four year old.
I've finally had enough. I get up and take him to the step. My dinner gets cold. My husband tries to entertain our older son while I start the struggle, the time out, the reasoning, the figuring.
October 27, 2015 was our day. Our realization day. Our "ah-hah" moment. We had an 8:40 am appointment with Dr. Susan Mayes at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Psychology Department. We had been waiting for this appointment for months and it was finally here. I was nervous. I was nervous what I would find out. I was nervous about how Charlie would act. I needed him to act how I saw him. How I saw him after a bad night's sleep, up by 4:30am, hungry, and restless. I didn't want anyone to think I was making it all up. He really could eat me out of house and home. Sit and line up cars. Scream and screech at the most random and inopportune times. Chirp. Swat. Growl. He really did all this. However I needed him to cooperate. I needed him to answer questions. I needed him to help me. To somehow show the doctor and tell the doctor so she could show us and tell us how we could help him.
That day, that morning, we found out our Charlie, our very large, boisterous to life, LOUD, non-sleeping, vehicle-loving child is autistic. Our kissing, hugging, woo'ing, smacking, wah'ing, loving boy was now going to be in that category. I would have to check "that" box on all the forms from now on. He's "on the spectrum," as they say. Charlie, at 4 years old, had been diagnosed high functioning autistic with ADHD. You know what this means - he has Asberger's syndrome. There really is no difference from what they said a number of years ago to what they say now ... high functioning autism with ADHD.
As WebMD, because where else do we all turn besides the Google itself, classifies it "a developmental disorder marked by severe difficulties in understanding how to interact socially." So the fact of making noises while it's naptime at school, Charlie is not functioning socially. He tells me all the time, " ... there's too many friends." Too many friends. At his daycare center, the other children are classified as friends. And Charlie is overwhelmed, he's over-stimulated, it's too much. But what can we all do? Every daycare center is the same - his age group will allow up to 20 children in a room. My husband and I work, very hard. He is a manager at the Hotel Hershey. He has long days, works very hard, arrives home as soon as he can. I teach. I teach high school. I leave early in the morning and get to him as soon as I can after school. Some days it is just too much for Charlie. He becomes overwhelmed, but what can his teachers do? They do more than their best. They work with him. They accommodate without knowing how to accommodate. They try. I pick him up to "It's been a rough day." "Charlie did not settle at naptime." "Charlie was making his noises again today." "The other kids are mimicking Charlie. They're egging him on. Other parents have started mentioning behaviors to us." Do you know what it's like for a mother or father to see every other child in their own child's classroom get a listening award for the day, but not their own.
I am not here to make excuses for my son, but I am here to plead with the public, plead with another child's parent, plead with a classmate; we are trying. My son does not know how to control himself. He has too much going on his head. Literally. There is too much and he does not know how to process it, handle it, react to it, control it. So he doesn't.
I try to be firm, but is it right to be firm with a child who cannot understand why he is in trouble. He knows what is right, what is wrong. But he does not know how to control his actions when he is going in the wrong direction. It is not in his know-how. Just because he has had good days, good moments, good cycles does not mean it will be that way from now on.
Charlie will become one end or the other. He will break down on the floor, crying, reaching for you, needing you, grasping for you. He will hold on and not let go. His tears will soak your shirt, his nose will do the same. There will be no consoling him until he gets what he needs from you, even if that is just a hug. You cannot reason with this Charlie. Just hold him, cross his arms in front of him, grab him from behind, lock him in against you like a straight jacket, then as soon as he begins to weaken, hold him in like you would if he were five months old and it's 2:43am. He'll settle, find him a truck or a truck program, wrap him up, offer him some pretzels, and he'll get through it. You won't remember what the problem was 25 minutes ago, because it will have been 25 minutes or more, but more specifically he will not remember.
Then there is the other Charlie. He's angry. He's mean. And he doesn't think about how hurtful he may be. He's not empathetic. He'll laugh. He doesn't understand why what he has done is wrong, hurtful, mean. He has been over-stimulated or perhaps left-out, feels left-out, can't handle a change you might be trying to impose. The other day while I had him out with his brother, we had to get off a bus. He didn't want to. He threw himself on the floor of the bus, "I'm tired," "I'm not talking to you," etc. I wrestled him up, off the bus, thanked the driver, got him to the car where he proceeded to smack my face and tell me he wanted me dead. I balled. I cried. I tried to tell him what he said was wrong, not nice, how am I supposed to feel? He laughed. Needless to say he had a long time out in his room when we got home.
I'm an emotional mom. I know I am. And anyone who wants to say something about it can shut up. There is no Tiger Mom happening here. I know "things will get better." I know "this too shall pass." I know I should just let them "be boys." I am letting my sons be boys. Majority of moms will tell you that they want to raise healthy, strong, polite, respectful young men who will be productive citizens and do good in this world. Guess what - I want the same thing. And guess what, I will succeed. But right now, don't blame me for crying after a struggle with my son. I cry because I don't know how to help him. I have no idea what he needs, besides his daddy and I. I'm not crying about what happens. I'm crying about why I can't help him when it happens. I don't know how. I'm mommy. I'm supposed to be able to fix everything. Everything. When you can't, you feel as though you have failed, as if you are incapable.
We are seeking help, but the state has a different idea of when it should all happen then we do - don't get me started - that's another article. Out of college with a psychology degree, a young bouncy coed has the possibility of being a TSS, a therapeutic support staff. With a little bit of a higher degree, a TSS can become a BSC, a behavioral specialist consultant. This is where we're at ... waiting on our assigned TSS, who can sit with my son and help him focus, sit still, work on his letters, remain quieter than he is now. This person can come in my home and help us know how to handle a disruptive dinnertime, arguments between brothers, an impatient older brother.
I want to help my child, but until I know how, there might be some tears ... and a lot of screaming.