This is Part 4 of "Early Life," where I give detailed background information to explain how we ended up on our life-changing healing journey. Click here to read Part 3.
When Boy Wonder was 2 1/2, Mr. Wonderful and I sat down with him and told him that Mommy had a little baby brother or sister for him growing in her belly. His first question was "What hole is the baby going to come out of?" Once we answered that to his satisfaction, he had a lot more questions. Most of them went something like this: "What if the baby goes into my room, climbs up onto my dresser, breaks my CD player and steals my CDs?" Clearly the little dude was coming to ruin his stuff, and quite possibly his life.
As my belly grew, he asked me every day, "When's the baby coming?" and "Is the baby coming today?" He knew that one day, Mommy and Daddy would leave him to go to the hospital to have the baby. He had a lot of anxiety about that.
Little Wonderboy arrived without a hitch when Boy Wonder was three. He held him a few times, played with him a little, helped a little, but mostly he was pissed. The baby was loud and pooped a lot and he just couldn't appreciate that. It took him a good two to three years just to be okay with the idea of having a little brother. In the mean time, he continued to have lots of tantrums, and more of the same challenging behavior.
Right after his fourth birthday, the Army moved us back to Texas. We weren't expecting to leave Virginia so soon and none of us felt ready to go. It was a hard transition, especially for Boy Wonder. Baby Brother was nine months old and just starting to crawl. His mobility meant that the threat was real now; his stuff was in jeopardy. Stress levels were high.
Boy Wonder, being sensory defensive, didn't like his little brother touching him or even getting too close. And since God has a sense of humor, He gave him a sensory seeker for a little brother. Wonderboy is a rambunctious, wrestling, in-your-face, personal-space-invading toucher. Ah yes, nothin' quite like a little in-house sensory integration therapy by firing squad. He's wonderful and we love him, but man, what a combo those two are! They're like the two kids in a classroom that need to be separated at all times. And I'm their teacher. Lord, help me.
They fought, just as brothers do. Occasionally, one would clobber the other over a toy. But, beyond that, Boy Wonder's behavior was starting to concern us even more. He began to hurt his little brother without provocation. He had been such a gentle toddler, so this came as a surprise. He would come up from behind him and whack him on the head or push him over in a seemingly unplanned and impulsive way. When we addressed the behavior, it felt like we weren't getting through to him. He offered no explanation and acted as if it hadn't even happened. He had a hard time apologizing and he didn't seem to understand when and why an apology was due.
At four years old, he was now preschool age. We had known for a couple of years that public school was probably not going to be a good fit for him. For starters, his giftedness and out-of-the-box thinking meant he was not going to fit the mold. With his sensory issues, emotional sensitivity and social problems, he simply was not going to be ready for school when the time came. So the choice was made for us that he was going to be homeschooled. I was happy to do what was best for him, but I never envisioned myself as a homeschooler.
At the beginning of preschool, I handed him a handwriting workbook, telling him that by the time he finished it, he would be able to write his name on the front cover. I thought it was a reasonable goal, but it never happened. He had a hard time learning to write his letters. He also shied away from other fine motor tasks like drawing and coloring. Maybe he wasn't ready, I thought. He was still young, so I didn't stress about it too much at that point. But it bothered me that he wasn't learning as easily as he always had. He seemed to be falling short of his potential in all subjects, considering his early precociousness.
He still loved being read to, so I chose a literature-based curriculum, which worked very nicely. The way he learned to read was unconventional. He had a knack for recognizing environmental print, an important pre-reading skill, beginning around his first birthday. As a toddler, he liked logos and learned many of their names. He especially liked learning the logos of various car manufacturers. From his car seat came a running commentary about the restaurants, stores, signs and types of cars we passed by as we drove.
He knew all of his letters and their sounds when he was two. As a preschooler, he was reading some, based on the fact that he said certain things that he wouldn't have known if he hadn't read them. But if you asked him, he'd tell you he couldn't read. For some reason, he didn't let on how much he knew. He resisted conventional reading instruction. Now, at the age of seven, he reads fairly well, but he won't pick up a book and read for pleasure. This is puzzling to me considering his love for books and his thirst for knowledge. His reading ability doesn't seem to match his interest level. In other words, he's completely bored by the stuff he can read. When I read to him, he enjoys novels and science and technology books that are above his reading level.
Houston, we have a problem.
The tantrums continued. In fact, he woke up in a rage practically every morning. He wanted me to snuggle with him in bed for quite a while every morning before he could transition to the day.
He wasn't interested in learning to dress himself, put on his own shoes, or care for himself. Potty training was a surprisingly long, arduous process, despite the fact that he could explain how it all worked since he was one. I could write a whole post about how it all went down, but y'all wouldn't read my blog anymore, so I'll spare you the details. Let's just say that it wasn't easy and it took a lot longer than I thought it would.
Clearly, he was socially and emotionally immature. I kept waiting for him to grow out of his challenging behaviors, many of which were normal for toddlers (because Toddlers are A**holes), but as he grew older and didn't grow out of them, I could no longer deny that he wasn't just a late bloomer. With little brother as a point of reference, I could now fully admit that something was definitely not right. It looked as if his younger brother was going to be surpassing him in some areas.
Things really came to a head as Boy Wonder approached his fifth birthday. Mr. Wonderful was deployed with the Army and we moved to a new house while he was away. Up to this point, his separation anxiety had eased a bit and he comfortably went places with his grandparents. During this stressful time, he started to refuse to separate from me under any circumstances. He even insisted on accompanying me to doctor and hair appointments. He had trouble socializing and making friends. He had frequent, raging tantrums, lots of aggression, defiant and even oppositional behavior. He was clearly very troubled and needed some help.
We took him to see a psychologist. After running a battery of tests, she told us that he had a very high verbal IQ, but his visual-spatial score was only in the high-average range, which could indicate some learning differences. He had some mild attention issues. He had several social deficits, including poor eye contact and difficulty with imaginative play. He also had motor and coordination delays and he was behind in his self-care skills. For this, she recommended an occupational therapy evaluation. Notably, he had a very high level of anxiety. She recommended counseling and Social Stories to help with his social skills.
"Maybe he's gifted," I said. "Or just quirky? Perhaps he's a late bloomer and he'll catch up on his own time frame."
"No," she said. She admitted that he was a bit of a puzzle, but he was most definitely not normal. She gave him a provisional diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (which is now folded into the autism spectrum, and is no longer considered a separate diagnosis).
We were not convinced. Some aspects of the diagnosis fit him, but others very much didn't. We knew our son. He wasn't himself. Something wasn't right.
We followed the psychologist's advice and got him into counseling and OT. The occupational therapist said that he had trouble with bilateral coordination. She also recommended a vision therapy evaluation by a developmental optometrist, which revealed that he had a convergence insufficiency and a variety of eye movement and tracking deficiencies. So we added vision therapy to the mix as well.
And that's pretty much how it's gone for the past few years. I've been shuttling him from therapy appointment to therapy appointment, while managing to do a few extracurriculars, field trips and, oh yeah, homeschooling. That's a big one. Most of the time I'm treading water, sometimes I'm drowning, but somehow I always manage to come up for just enough air.
He hasn't been easy, this kid.
But it got harder. And now that you know his history, I'm ready to tell you about that.