Selfish

No one should feel happy for a diagnosis about PDD. It is not the sort of thing that should inspire relief. And yet, I am more relieved than I can describe about Reed’s diagnosis, but not for the reasons you’d think.

I have been feeling increasingly guilty about Reed’s difficulties since he first started to exhibit these behaviors at around 2 ½ years old. I felt that I must be doing something terribly wrong for my sweet, perfect little angel to become such an angry, headstrong kid. I ran out of patience about 2 years ago, and have been running on empty since then. I couldn’t figure out where we went wrong, or how to help him.

First, came the diagnosis of ADHD. This came in the midst of a nightmarish year of pre-k in the local public school. Reed was acting out on a regular basis, even though he loved school and couldn’t bear to miss it. He was sent home repeatedly, and eventually the school threatened to suspend him if we couldn’t get him to control himself better. In desperation, we scheduled an appointment with his pediatrician to discuss options. His teacher completed the Connor’s form (as did we), and the pediatrician took one look at it and sighed. While most doctors hesitate to diagnose ADHD in kids under 6, since many kids outgrow the “over-active” stage, he felt that Reed was definitely an exception to that. He commented on how high the score was (I can’t recall the number, but well over the range at which a child his age is considered ADHD), and offered options. Because of Reed’s aggressive tendencies, he recommended a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. We filled his prescription for Ritalin, and started searching for a therapist who would agree to work with a 4 year old (no small task, I assure you). This was both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. Reed had always been active, preferring to climb the furniture rather than sit and play with toys. Many people had mentioned hyperactivity before, but I always defended him (and still do). I still believe his activity and curiosity were absolutely normal for a child his age. He was not destructive or aggressive. He listened well, and enjoyed reading and puzzles. He was able to focus on an activity for an age-appropriate amount of time (which under 2 is not very long anyway). It was discouraging to have all those people proved right, after my adamant beliefs that he was developing normally. And yet, it was so nice to have an answer. To take a step forward, instead of backward. I had wild fantasies about getting my sweet little angel back. Fantasies in which I no longer had to lock the refrigerator at night, or scream at the top of my lungs for him to put down the scissors and step away from the cat (ok, this hasn’t actually happened yet, but it’s one of my fears, given his love of cutting things inappropriately). Suddenly I had hope, and that is always a good feeling.

But we saw little improvement. It took months to finally get him an appointment with a therapist, and by that time, my hope was fading. I had spent the greater part of the summer reading up on ADHD, and how to best work with kids who are wound a bit too tight. None of the suggestions seemed to make any difference at all with Reed. I felt like I was back to treading water, rather than the progress I had been hoping for. Therapy began, and I was further disillusioned. If we were going to see change, it wouldn’t be any time soon.

After a few months of therapy, Reed was evaluated by one of the staff psychologists. She made mention of scary sounding conditions such as ODD. This was not comforting in the least. It wasn’t until after a parent/teacher meeting that we found the key to Reed. Thanks to his fantastic teacher for picking up on the subtleties of his miniature neurosis (and I call them that with nothing but love). Up to that point, I had been having trouble connecting his outbursts and finding the pattern. She hit the nail on the head. Reed needs routine. He needs things to be a certain way, and if they aren’t, he just can’t cope with it. I had always just believed he was a headstrong kid, who was used to being an only child and getting his way most of the time. It never occurred to me that he literally couldn’t handle changes, and that’s why he needed everything to be “my way or the highway.” The teacher mentioned a quirk he had concerning the classroom crayons. He has one particular set of crayons that he must use every day. Since the class uses community crayon buckets, his crayons are not always together and they are not always on his table. He will seek out each and every one of his perfect set of crayons before he can begin, even if he doesn’t need all the colors. He cannot do any work until he has found all the crayons. This fixation on the crayons doesn’t make any sense to me. Crayons all look alike as far as I’m concerned, but to him, it is crucial to his daily routine. Should he fail to find even one of the colors, the rest of the day is usually a total wash, and he may as well come home right then (and often ends up doing so, as he gets sent home occasionally). No amount of redirection or reassuring will do, only those crayons. I mentioned this to his therapist, and you could practically see the light bulb above her head click on in a cartoonesque way. Oddly enough, those precious crayons were the key to understanding Reed. She began pulling out books on PDD, and started asking questions. By the end of the session, he had a diagnosis, and I again had my hope back. There was more we could do to help him. This was not caused by my parenting skills, or lack thereof. His brain is just wired differently, and we need to approach him from a different angle.

*sigh* It’s a rollercoaster just retelling it. And yet it feels so much better to finally admit it: I am glad my son has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS. I’m not glad he has it, but I’m glad we finally know it’s there. I can slowly feel my patience reserves filling back up. I believe I have been a better mother since the diagnosis, and that alone is progress. And it’s starting to pay off. Knowing how to approach the problem has made a world of difference. The tone in our house is completely different these past few months. Reed is making better eye contact. We’re settling into new routines that have him more relaxed and a lot more fun to be around. The destruction in our lives has been cut down to a minimum, and the stress levels are dropping faster than the temperatures here in Michigan this winter. I may not be seeing it quite yet, but I’m sensing that there may, actually, be light at the end of this tunnel. And until I get there, I might just be able to enjoy the ride.

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1 Comment

  1. January 23, 2006 at 9:02 pm

    I’m glad to hear that you and Reed are doing better. I felt the same way when I got the diagnosis for Gabe of PDD-NOS. His behavior was explainable and I had so much more understanding. How are you working through the ODD? Is he on a visual schedule or do you try to accommodate his needs in order to curb the behavior? We are still working on Gabe’s behavior *sigh* There have been some really hard days lately.

    Take care,
    Kristin


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