Good Boy, Bad Boy
When my son was two, a younger cousin bit him. I was shocked. Never, my son would never ever do that. He was an “easy” baby, not demanding, never clingy like other babies. Not my beautiful, perfect son.
What’s the Word: Autism diagnosis
When our son reached age three, he still wasn’t talking. I’d hear maybe 1 or 2 words in a day. A few more parts of syllables, here or there. I never heard “Momma,” and he never called for me . My name was a rare, mumbled sound like wawrah, an attempt at my first name.
At 3 years old almost to the day, our was diagnosed with severe language and cognitive problems. He’d spent a few minutes with speech and language pathologist, and she told us the bad news. Our son hadn’t learned “object permanence.” That means that objects continue to exist when he can’t see them, and people live beyond his view. “Object permanence” is what infants learn that makes peekaboo so much fun. Then he went to a developmental pediatrician who said it was Autism, and wouldn’t explain. She said, “Read this,” handing us a photocopy of the cover of a 700 page book by another developmental pediatrician. My husband was a lawyer whose charms included loving to talk a lot, to tell stories, and to crack jokes. His job involved reading hundreds of pages a week. Before the diagnosis, he had confided that having a “disabled child” was his worst nightmare. He immediately got the book out of the library and started to read. By about Saturday, he was finished. Cover to cover, without taking a day’s break, or and without making a comment to me. For the next four days, he was silent, making just a few monosyllabic replies.
Expelled from Pre-School: third time’s the charm
Soon our son was established in an autism pre-school program five days a week. He’d been tossed out of a day care center (only going 4 hours a week), and a Montessori school the previous year. Within a few months in this special program, he was having difficulty. He still wasn’t talking at all and couldn’t hold a crayon. The class had 10 children, 8 or 9 aides, two full-time teachers in one large, loud room, with a speech therapist next door. On its face, the program sounded terrific. He was miserable.He knew he couldn’t do what they were asking him to, and that the other children with autism could. He bit his aide once month, the next month bit a different aide several times, and so on. He was smitten. One day, a new child joined the class. A girl in a sea of boys. Blonde, silent, and adorable. One day at circle time, she was sitting at the circular table next to him, when he bit her. Her mother removed her immediately and permanently from the class. (In a future post, you’ll see that “the girl” and my son crossed paths again, with a different result.)
My beautiful, perfect son who was never going to be one of the bad kids was now singled out. One of the classroom teachers took over as his aide. She kept him separate from the others, inside a squared-off set of child-proof gates, corralled all day. His work? “Object discrimination.” It sounds fancy, but he had to point at a small water bottle when told “water,” instead of pointing to a tissue on the table. The teacher would switch the objects’ places. He couldn’t do it, and the frequency of biting increased. (Another post will cover how, at age 14, I helped him get over this early childhood trauma.) It seemed now that he was biting the teacher every day, sometimes more than once. He’d attach himself to my arms now, too, with teeth that were large, sharp, using strong jaws. My forearms were increasingly bruised, and sometimes bloodied. In a parking lot once, he attached himself, and, desperate, I sank my fingernails into him, hoping he’d release before taking a piece of my flesh.
Breathe, dear reader, and remember this story has a happy ending.
Angels Come to Our House
My beautiful, perfect son was kicked out of the autism pre-school for behavior. The county program seemed even less well-staffed. So the school district agreed services would continue, but at our house, and I would have to find people to provide them. We found angels. Dr N, now tenured faculty at Columbia University, signed on to design our son’s program. I found a woman who had years of experience teaching children with autism in their homes, J from Alpine Learning Group Outreach, to work under Dr N. Within a half hour with J, she had shown me how to get my son off my arm. Self-defense, against a 4 year old! Hope! (The training is called crisis intervention training.) J’s quick lessons were the first step in getting our beautiful son to be our beautiful perfect son once again.
Look here next for: Crisis Intervention Training, concepts and resources
The next post will cover crisis intervention training concepts and resources with links. I cannot provide you with this training. Concepts and techniques are similar regardless of the age and size of the person. I can tell you, fearing the person you love or need to work with doesn’t help the person at all. You have to be safe, confident, and fearless.