Sunday, November 11, 2012

I Thought My Kid Was Just Weird, But Maybe Not... Or Maybe So

Disclaimer: This is MY story about a situation in MY family. I do not presume to know you or your children, and I understand that what worked for me may not work for you. I do not intend to make light of a serious issue, or to claim to be an 'expert' on the subject at all. Please keep all of this in mind when reading today's post, and in commenting. Thank you.

There are certain things I swore to myself I would not talk about when I started a blog- religion, politics and special needs situations, especially autism. Today I'm breaking my own rule in light of recent events in my house, and I'm hoping my story can help some other moms out there.

My kids, as of this point, have not ever been diagnosed with anything. The Ginger (now almost 8) had swine flu once and has had a busted ear drum due to an ear infection, and The Girl (now 10) has allergies, but that's just about it (thank goodness, and knock on wood). As far as I know it, they are happy, healthy kids.

This wasn't always the case.

Courtesy of hhs.gov
I'm telling this story now because I recently read some articles on some mom sites about autism. I've never researched autism, but some of the "facts" in these articles seemed a bit strange based on the little knowledge I did have. So, as with anything else in this world I have questions about, I set out on a massive information hunt to feed my curiosity. I was freaking out when I was done.

7 years ago when The Ginger was around the age of 1, he was a strange kid. He used to line his matchbox cars up in a straight line, all bumper to bumper, facing the same direction. I thought this was a little bizarre, so I experimented with a few things one time. When his back was turned, I'd flip one of the cars around backwards, and when he turned back around, he'd immediately spot it and freak out, grunting and sometimes even hitting me (he didn't speak at this point). He'd calm down, turn the car back to the way it was supposed to be, and add the next car to the front of the line. While I understood the behavior was not typical of other children, I honestly just thought he liked things a certain way, and (this may sound horrible to some people, but if you know me, you know it really isn't), it became like a parlor trick in our home. A friend would come over, he'd be lining his cars up, I'd say, 'Holy crap, you have to see this', I'd flip a car around, he'd get mad at me, and we'd all laugh (The Ginger laughed, too, when he saw us laughing- eventually). I never thought much about it.

The Ginger didn't start walking until he was 14 months old or so. He had no interest in getting around. He was perfectly happy sitting and playing with blocks or lining cars up in a row. He never talked much- mostly in grunts and weird sounds, but his sister was 3 at the time and would talk for him, 'He wants his bottle,' or 'He's tired, he wants his blankie' when he would start grunting, and then she'd go and get his bottle or his blankie for him. So, I never thought anything of that, either. I figured he didn't walk because he didn't feel like it, and didn't talk because his sister always did it for him.

When The Ginger turned 2 years old, I was into this whole natural healing frame of mind, and I refused to get
him his 2 year vaccinations. I had read all of those articles about how vaccinations were linked to autism (keep in mind, this was 6 years ago, and they hadn't retracted them yet). That's when I looked at The Ginger and first thought, 'Oh crap, I wonder if he has autism...'. One month to the day of not having had his 2 year booster shots, The Ginger started talking up a storm. It was like a switch was flipped inside of him, and I just knew it was directly linked to not having had vaccinations. To this day, with the articles retracted and everything, I find it too highly coincidental to not have applied to my family, but whatever, right?

During the Terrible Twos, The Ginger was the child that threw himself on the floor and banged his head, on purpose, during a temper tantrum. I'd move him to carpet, set him up, then ignore his tantrums. If he moved back to the hard floor, I'd pick him up, move him to safety and let him finish his tantrum. Sometimes he'd hit, sometimes he'd bite, many times he'd try and hurt himself, but I just figured each 2 year old was different, and this was his way of expressing himself when he was pissed off. It was also during these years that he'd make absolutely amazing geometric designs with blocks that were symmetrical, gorgeous and huge. Hubby and I used to take pictures of them, we were so impressed. We figured he was a creative soul,and the temper tantrums just came with that (all artists are misunderstood, aren't they?).

When The Ginger was 4, Hubby and I separated. I had to put the kids in daycare, and they required all of their vaccinations to be up to date, and seeing as I didn't feel like filling out the massive paperwork required to legally have my children able to attend daycare or school without having had their vaccinations, I just took The Ginger to the doctor and had it done. At this time I knew The Ginger was behind, developmentally. His sister at this age knew numbers, letters, counting, and could put together small words. The Ginger had absolutely no interest in learning any of this. All he wanted to do was build things with Legos. When he started daycare, I was called almost every single day. He wouldn't sit still for the lessons, he didn't pay attention, all he cared about was arts and crafts time. Okay, he's 4, and he's never been in daycare before- he needed to adjust which is what I told myself and the daycare workers. When the staff tried to make him sit down and learn something, he'd throw the chairs at them, hit them or spit on them, and go hide under a table. I was always having to either talk him down over the phone or head to daycare and deal with him. One time he didn't like the snack they had planned for the day, so he threw cups of chocolate milk across the table and hid from the teachers. The Chocolate Milk Day (as it had come to be known in my house), Hubby and I knew something was more than just weird about The Ginger. We talked about sending him to a specialist of some sort, then said that more than likely his outbursts were because his parents were living in 2 different houses and he was having to attend daycare, when I had always stayed home with him.

We switched daycares shortly after that (both children were coming home with bruises that the teachers couldn't explain and my kids were saying the teachers had caused them), and the second daycare proved to be much better than the first. I'm not a racist person, please understand that when I say what I'm about to say- the first daycare was run by little old white Christian ladies. This second daycare was run by big ol' black ladies who didn't take crap off of little kids, and that's exactly what The Ginger needed. I warned them about his outbursts, and they simply said, 'That's fine. We don't tolerate that mess around here, and he'll figure that out real quick.' Within 2 weeks, my son's behavior had done a 180. Each day I'd ask for a progress report, and each day they got better. When I asked the women what they did, they said, 'Well, you see that big mat over there in the corner? That's where we put kids when they throw a temper tantrum. They can still see all of the kids out here having fun, playing games and singing songs. When your son starts to throw a temper tantrum, we set him on this mat and just go about what we are doing with the other kids, not paying him no mind. Every now and then we'll say, 'It sure would be nice if The Ginger was here with us, playing this game.' As the days went by, and he saw what he was missing, the temper tantrums stopped.'

Freaking genius, if you ask me. I had absolutely no problem with their method, and my kids never came home with stories of bruises or hating the daycare (like they did with the other one). When I look back now, I realize that it was the summer, so the daycare wasn't doing preschool work as the other one had. I think that factored in, too, as you will see in a second.

Right before The Ginger turned 6, Hubby and I thought it would be a good idea to try our marriage again. He got orders to Arizona, and as a family (with the addition of a friend of mine), we moved. The Ginger's behavior seemed to improve, until we enrolled him in school. The phone calls started again about him ripping up his school work and hiding under a table, or hitting the other kids or the teacher. My friend that moved with us had previously worked with autistic kids, so she sat The Ginger down and informally evaluated him. Her conclusion, and when we asked him about it he confirmed her thoughts, was that he didn't understand letters or numbers at all. His temper tantrums came when they had to do work with letters and numbers, and the other kids in the class understood it, but he didn't. He lashed out, out of frustration. So, my friend worked with him each day on understanding letters, numbers, and what they did, and his behavior improved.

Fast forward to now. While my child is nowhere near perfect, and when he gets pissed at us he still throws things sometimes, he's, for all intents and purposes, a "normal" child. We never got him diagnosed with anything along the way. Why?
  1. I didn't know any better. I never fully researched autism to see if he had symptoms of it until a few days ago when all of these articles started popping up on my regular mom sites.
  2. There were always other things going on that could explain why he was doing (or not doing) whatever it was.
Here we are, The Ginger will be 8 in a few weeks, and he's fine in school, no longer has a learning disability, he's still the most creative child I've ever come across, and behaviorally speaking he's pretty well balanced. 

Courtesy of Wikipedia
When all of these articles about autism started popping up on sites I frequent, and I researched it, my jaw hit the floor. I immediately called a friend, freaking out, and asked if kids could "grow out" of autism? She started googling, while calming me down and listening to all of the reasons why I thought my son had autism as a small child. He lined up the matchbox cars, he liked dropping things from all over the house and watching them hit the ground, we had to put a lock on the toilet because he was always flushing things down it, not talking until he was 2, throwing chairs, biting, flipping out about the snack selection at daycare, preferring to play by  himself than with children, and hiding under tables when he was angry (all symptoms found between here and here- with that second link, there are videos of a 7 year old, and that was similar to how The Ginger was at 2). While some articles do state that kids can "grow out" of autism if the conditions aren't severe and the planets are pretty much aligned perfectly, it had me wondering about a whole other possibility.

The rate of diagnosis of autism has increased 78% in the last decade. Now, 1 in just 88 kids falls into the autistic spectrum. There are so many theories about what has caused this huge increase, from the amount of pollutants in the air and heavy metal in the water increasing, to better diagnosis methods, to more understanding about what it is and how it presents itself in children.

But when you look at some of the symptoms of autism- the lashing out when they are frustrated, the social awkwardness, the learning disabilities, the stacking things, the watching lights or water (toilet flushing), the taking things apart to see how they work, the inability to communicate correctly- what if these are all just normal kid behaviors that are being thrown under the autistic spectrum now to appease parents?

Please understand that I'm talking about the mild cases of autism, not the extreme cases- what they are calling 'functional autism' right now- the kids who can walk, talk, play with other kids, and otherwise function but are being labeled as autistic because of some quirks here and there.

I mean hell, I'm 31 years old, and if you give me some big blocks to play with, the first thing I do is stack them up to see if I can make a 5'5" tower, and then I knock it down and laugh. Yet, according to today's standards, a child who does the same thing could fall under the autistic spectrum.

I never had my child diagnosed for whatever reason, and now, he doesn't show any of the signs he did when he was a small child. I'm not saying having a child diagnosed causes the situation to worsen, but what if, what if what The Ginger went through as a small child was all completely normal, but because some parents started freaking out about their kid being weird, doctors started adding it in with the symptoms of autism? How would things be different if some parents just accepted that their kid was strange (like I did) and had quirks, instead of rushing them out before they even turn 1 to try and figure out why their kid isn't like everyone else's kid?

Think of it like this- right now, it's completely "normal" for a kid to pick their nose and eat their boogers. What if, 10 years down the road, some parents come along looking for answers as to why their kid picks his nose and eats his boogers, and one specialist somewhere says, "Well, I had a kid in here last week with autism who picked his nose and ate his boogers, so maybe it's a symptom of autism."  I don't mean to make light of autism or say that some of the symptoms of autism aren't really symptoms of autism, but what if they aren't? What if they are things that some autistic kids do, that have nothing to do with autism? What if it's just a thing that makes that kid weird or strange, and instead of trying to find answers explaining the weird or strange, we should as parents, and as a society, just accept the fact that our kid is unique?

Does this make sense to anyone else but me and my warped mind?

As I look back now, by today's standards, I'd say my child had autism when he was younger. Did he just grow out of it or did he not really have it to begin with? I have no idea either way. But I made the decision, as a mother, to let my weird child be weird, did not freak out or panic about his episodes or the things that made him different as a child. If his behavior would have continued on once the learning disability had been conquered a few years ago, then yes, I more than likely would have taken him to a specialist if I couldn't handle him or his behavior. Fortunately for us, the behavior didn't continue. His temper tantrums and lashing out were directly related to him not understanding letters and numbers. Once we figured that out, his behavior balanced. So why did he line cars up and freak out when you flipped one around as a kid? Again, I have no idea. Why is it now, when he spends hours making a huge Lego house, and he accidentally trips when he comes downstairs to show us, and the house goes across the floor and breaks into tiny pieces, and he screams at the top of his lungs and bursts into tears? My guess would be because he's pissed he just spent hours making a house that he has to now rebuild. I know what to do when this happens now- we've been going through it for years. But will I take my kid to the doctor to see if he really is autistic? With how things are now, no I won't. If things were to ever get worse in the future, I may- I'd have to cross that bridge when I got to it. But for now, The Ginger spazzes out when he can't beat a level of a video game or when he has to rebuild a Lego creation, or when we do something to piss him off. It's what he does, and I accept that weird part of him.

I said it at the beginning and I'll say it again: This is MY story about a situation as it occurred in MY family. I don't claim to have any answer about autism, or to say that my kid was cured or whatever. And I don't mean to make light of autism or to say that anyone who feels something is really wrong with their kid and wants answers from professionals is wrong. My gut told me that my kid was strange but manageable, so I never had him diagnosed. That's what was right for MY family. I am a firm believer, though, in not medicating small children, so when I read articles about kids who are put on anxiety meds before they turn 2, I admit now that I raise an eyebrow. I believe temper tantrums are normal in childhood, as is biting, throwing things, kicking, hitting, and throwing themselves down onto the floor and beating their head against it during these temper tantrums. And if your kid is between the ages of 1 and 4, that's seriously in the normal range of behavior for those age groups. It's my opinion that parents with kids these age need to just accept the temper tantrums and deal with them in a non-medicated fashion. To me, medicating a 2 year old for temper tantrums is like medicating a singer because they sang. Try and understand that your child (as does every child) has quirks, and let some of them go. Not every weird behavior needs a diagnosis or a specialist. So sit back for a short time and see how things go. Maybe your kid is just being a kid, maybe keeping an eye on them will reveal even more things that do require the eye of a specialist. In the end, you need to do what's right for your child, your family, just as I did.


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8 comments:

  1. I've wondered that too. If maybe, just maybe, some doctors are quick to throw out an autism diagnosis. My son did a lot of the same things yours did-having to have things in a certain order, walking and talking late, crazy violent temper tantrums... Among other things that made me wonder. When I talked to our pediatrician though, she just said that B was too friendly and sweet for us to worry, and that some kids are just "weird" (like stacking in a perfect way, putting letters in order backwards) and that all kids develop at different rates from others. I quit worrying and B eventually caught up on walking and talking and is perfectly fine. He still has tantrums but we deal with them and move on.

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    1. You have no idea how happy you just made me. This post was very hard for me to write, and I figured the comments that came in would be blasting me for not understanding autism or for taking it in stride. I'm happy that there is at least one other mom out there with a story similar to mine who handled it as I did. Yay!! Thanks so much for your comment! =)

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    2. Well it is hard to question because I'm sure some people will get their feelings hurt that you just don't understand autism. I've kept my mouth shut about it because I don't want to offend anyone. But I've read blogs where people with autistic kids describe the sames things B has done in the past (and even still does) and I just had to wonder if their doctor was too quick to diagnose. Maybe some kids are just weird which is OK. They're unique. It seems so extreme how much autism diagnoses have jumped in the past decade. I think the whole vaccine thing scared the beejezus out of people about autism and now if kids do something "not normal" that is the first fear, rather than just assuming their kid has personality.

      Damn I'm going to get flamed for this, aren't I?

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  2. All of my curtain climbers (twin 2 year old boys and a five year old daughter) were late bloomers. My oldest didnt walk, talk or potty train until she was a full year behind most kids so I had the same reaction as you. Many, many tear soaked pillows and a whoke sh$tload of gray hair (which i pluck and burn in protest). Fast forward to the twins and its the same thing. They just started walking and aren't really talking and potty training fuggedabbotit! But like you i know it'll happen like switching on a lightbulb, I'll go in to pee and one of them will be sitting on the toilet reading Cosmo. You aren't alone!

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    1. When that switch gets flipped in their heads, it's crazy. One minute they are still your little baby, the next they are practically a 20 year old, lol. Thanks for your comment!

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  3. Wow. Thank you for this post. I was once in "like" with your blog, but now I am in love. It's good to know that I am not the only mommy out there who doesn't jump to a million and one conclusions when somethings seems kinda weird and rush their child off to the Dr to be diagnosed with the new "fashionable" illness. Don't get me wrong, I have worked with special needs for the majority of my life, but I have had so many moms at the daycare my child goes to rushing their child to immediately have their child put on ADD medication or into an autism program because their child is what I like to call "creative". Hudson likes to line up matchbox cars, build the towers of anything he can find to the ceiling, and hates to be dirty, but what "they" call a mild form of autism on the now "broad spectrum" is called being a 2 year old. My son is super smart (in my eyes) and hates to be still. He gets bored, but does that make him ADD? No. Not in my eyes. I have just switched him to a new daycare as of today, with hopes that they will keep him occupied by learning, not by being impatient and throwing him in time out because he gets upset after getting frustrated (much like the Ginger).

    I guess what I am trying to say is that I am glad I am not the only "outside of the box" thinker. It makes me happy to know that I may have just made the best decision ever moving him to a new daycare. Now, to just work on the potty training... Oy Vey.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! You definitely know where to look if you want laid back parenting stories and advice- right here, lol. Good luck with the potty training- The Ginger was 2 1/2, closer to 3 before it happened. He was stubborn with that, too, lol.

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    2. Yeah, the Hudster is 2 will be 3 in June. We've got time right? lol

      I myself being a tatted mom in the bible belt cannot WAIT to hear your stories. They are grand down here, I tell ya!

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