Friday, February 29, 2008

"Race Car Brain"

I want to write about my son.

He is joy.

He is energy. White-hot, red, fire-y, Aries energy, zooming through the house, bare feet pounding on the walnut floors, making farting noises with his mouth. When I tell him 'That's enough noise' or 'No running in the house,' he says,

"No, Mom. I'm farting." And off he goes.

I KNOW something is different with my lovely son. That's why we sought out the doctor in the first place. Though with Robert we don't say things like 'diagnosis' or 'different', instead we talk about his "race car brain."

My chocolate-eyed son is smart. At six years old, he has negotiated a 'no combing hair' deal in exchange for keeping it cut short. For the next three weeks he's sporting a red and blue full arm cast -- the kind that bends at the elbow.

His eyes wide, he is always happy to share the story of the cast.

"Josiah pushed me off the slide stairs. It was a seven-foot drop! My arm hit the bar six times, and two times on the stairs and then my arm and my FACE hit the ground!"

He loves: Spanish, PE, Science. He builds things and paints rainbows. And his elementary school staff has found programs that create a positive experience for him, so he is mostly able to enjoy school.

He likes gymnastics lessens and I attribute that to his gym teacher. She works with him beautifully. She redirects him several times during the lesson and does not seem perturbed by his outbursts. They are never malicious or naughty, just enthusiastic and joyful at what he can do; he looks for validation and recognition -- loudly and cheerfully.

"Look! I can jump like a frog!"

"Wow. That's neat. But we're stretching right now. See if you can reach your toes."

"Ok." He plops down, with sound effects.


"Look! I can ride my legs like a bicycle!"

He never seems to calm down. It is, quite frankly, exhausting to be around him at times. I've read a gazillion books and researched syndromes and disorders until I felt like I could write a book of my own. Stuff on autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Aspergers Syndrome, Bi-polar disorder. He doesn't quite fit any of them. Yet something is a tad off and he appears to have three quarters of all the symptoms. Every book: almost, but not quite.

My son loves people. Sometimes he'll choose a recipient (whether he knows them or not) and will start talking until they get bored and walk away. This doesn't seem to embarrass him -- he follows and keeps talking. He wants friends and playdates but to get someone's attention he'll walk up to them in the hall at school and yell in their face. Just to say, "Hi, I'm here," I guess.

Just like every little boy, Robert thinks belching is a hilarious sporting event but doesn't stop at competition. I heard him frequently over this last Thanksgiving weekend belching so loud my toenails vibrated. And he was alone when he'd do it -- or otherwise so engaged in his task that he wasn't interacting with anyone else. So it isn't just the attention-getting factor. Or clowning around to get a laugh.

My son is singing Christmas carols to himsef right now while simultaneously playing a golf video game. The songs are booming loud. Like, top of the lungs loud. On purpose.

"Deck the halls with poison ivy ... FA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA -- BELCH!!!"

He lurches Frankenstein-like into my office and throws himself into my lap while I'm writing in my spiral notebook. This hurts, actually, and I open my mouth to address this when he looks up from his hug and smiles.

"I love you, Mommy."

His nine-year-old sister scoots in the room fresh from a bath, mussed hair dripping, hunched in a towel. Robert walks out through the door, singing, and knocks his sister off balance with his shoulder as he passes. He doesn't even notice and continues to the living room. Both Aubrey and myself stare at the place where he used to be. Neither of us says anything.

He lives life at full speed and is enthusiastic, helpful, loving, spirited, interested, and willing to work. He loves being with his family and friends.

Robert re-energizes and feels whole when he interacts with others. But this is ironic and a little sad, actually. His very behavior and social skills prohibit me from dropping him off at play dates. I need to be there to run interference most times. Since I don't have the time or energy to schlep along, I don't set them. Which almost encourages his manic behavior.

Boredom makes him frantic. Food or bath times usually ground him. Snuggling and reading together does, too.

He is delightful, really. And his laugh is so contagious.

He has many super qualities that will help him grow into a fantastic adult. Ironically, some of these traits are the very ones that are so exhausting and worrisome to me. (Like the ones where you're curious about everything and you seek joy from life at all times and never follow along 'just because' but always question authority...) I hesitate to squash any of these and feel resigned that a dianosis label would do that. Should I bother with a diagnosis, then? Could it help the quality of his life now? Later?

His frustration and aggression can be a little exhausting or alarming, especially if you don't know him.

He's been to Rule School, sent to the principal's office and been held in at recess for things like: pushing, shoving, not listening to teachers, leaving the classroom without letting anyone know and once for kicking and biting another student. He's gone 'missing' from the school a few times and chases people with sticks. Ok, that only happened once and when he goes missing it is only fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, but still.

I looked away once from the park we were at when he was three (to talk to his sister) and he ran off. My husband found him two blocks down a busy street. I had been looking for him in the creek.

When he was five our family went to a school function where hundreds of families were milling around the halls and he got separated from us. The principal made an announcement over the PA system and several teachers helped us look for him. My husband found him walking home by himself. Robert just thought it was time to go.

I've feared taking him in public for years because of this tendency -- especially crowded places like Saturday Market.

When he was younger his violence was done out of curiosity and almost 'glee'. He saw a play therapist for several months because of his aggression and rage. (We've had to leave a couple birthday parties because he's punched a kid.)

In retrospect, I believe that our family was going through so many huge changes all at once that his four-year-old nervous system just went on the fritz. Once we got settled in our new house, met new teachers, orientated to a new school, met new friends and some new routines were established, most of Robert's violence subsided.

It flares up, though, when overly frustrated, overwhelmed, tired or hungry.

I talked to him recently about personal space and how people aren't comfortable when we cross into it, so we shouldn't do it. He confided that it feels like his space is invaded all the time. This concerns me and explains some of his aggression and frustration.

Like it or not, we are wading towards diagnosis of some kind. My husband doesn't want a label put on him and is alarmed when I share stories of this kind but I think it may provide our son with some extra compassion from at least the adults in his life. Who couldn't use more of that?

The child psychologist we are working with now doesn't know for sure what is going on for Robert, but does acknowledge that he meets some of the criteria for said label. I respect him for not putting our son in a box and slapping a prescription on him, instead taking his time in evaluation -- though I must confess my impatience at times.

Robert has many gifts and I'm seeing more and more that rather than a diagnosis, maybe all he needs is someone to understand those gifts and learn how to work with them. And then to teach others in his life how to work with them.

It turns out we may not know anything for a couple of years because of his young age. Apparently lots of six year olds have race car brains.

No comments: