Daniel was such an easy child at home. He was robust, healthy, entertained himself, and demanded very little. Baby brother on the other hand was plagued with chronic ear infections and into everything and very demanding. It was years before I realized that baby brother’s behavior was actually normal.
We moved when Daniel was 4 and he was placed in daycare. Life with the boys had been pretty normal, or at least so it seemed until this point. But then we moved, there were now neighbor kids the boys ages, and Daniel’s 11 yr old half-sister came to live for her regular summer/holiday visit and stayed for a little over a year. Daniel idolized her. Unfortunately the one season that his sister lived with us was an emotional roller coaster that left all of us (and especially Daniel then 5 years old) scarred badly and nearly wrecked my marriage. Daniel’s Dad became so frustrated that he started popping Daniel on the arm at the dinner table for the slightest infraction. I had to sit between them to run interference. The trouble with my step-daughter caused ripples that separated me from my in-laws for the next 12 years. That separation caused my sons to be the disconnected “step-children” in my husband’s family, only seeing their paternal family on holidays.
Daycare soon became a non-stop battle of complaints by the staff and sadness on Daniel’s part. He and his brother were separated into different age groups and Daniel couldn’t make friends on his own. Daniel didn’t follow the schedule very well and this frustration the staff and him when he had to stop playing when he wasn’t finished. Many times I would arrive at the daycare early to pick him up only to have to wait until he was ready to go (the normal pick up time).
Kindergarten was a nightmare. Daniel’s teacher thought him to immature and wanted him out. Mostly because he didn’t do well moving from station to station when time was called for an activity to cease. After battling with her for four months, we gave in and moved him back to Daycare. This wounded Daniel horribly. He left behind ‘friends’ and felt like a failure (at age 5!!!). He lost his identity as a kindergartner even at church where he had to stay behind when his class was promoted. I witnessed it all and couldn’t find a way to ease his pain, despite many attempts. It was also during this time that the school put tremendous pressure on him to read. We didn’t understand why he couldn’t, someone so bright, and with word recognition being easy even at age 2 and 3. Come to find out later, a neighbor boy told Daniel that he was stupid and so Daniel thought he couldn’t learn. We spent $5000 we didn’t have and had to borrow to put him in a tutoring program to help convince him that he could read.
Daniel’s second attempt at Kindergarten was just as frustrating. Again, his teacher thought him slow and wanted to place him in a “bridge” program. I refused; he would not carry that label if I could help it. Then one day I found out that he had been suspended from school for fighting a 3rd grader while waiting for the day care bus. I found out that he was being bullied – but the school punished him. At the same time, I found out that he was being left in his classroom during lunch and recess time on many occasions as punishment for not following instructions in class. I was outraged and I went searching for another option.
I found a private school and moved him quickly. We couldn’t afford that either, but what choice did we have. He had a wonderful teacher and she worked patiently with him. However, Daniel started exhibiting less than acceptable behaviors in after school programs. It was a religious institution that tried but didn’t know what to do with a child that constantly wanted to wrestle with other boys (sometime he and his brother did for fun constantly) and asked questions that sometimes where embarrassing to the adults (why is a middle finger not supposed to be pointed?).
We started our first round of psychologists – something else to strain our finances. It was the first of four mis-diagnoses of ADHD and a one and only round of Ritalin. Ritalin caused him to sit in the room and cry, so it was quickly abandoned. There were other drugs prescribed and quickly abandoned.
During this time (2nd grade) I discovered a book called “Is This Your Child” by Doris Rapp, MD. Dr Rapp prescribed diet and lifestyle changes that we adopted and found our first real help. Daniel’s doctor thought the book was junk science, but we stuck with it for several years. Eliminating cow’s milk and reducing fast foods did seem to help Daniel with his self-control and definitely helped his brother, who was somewhat hyperactive. I have since learned that Aspergians (my son’s preferred term) can have health issues that benefit from better nutrition.
Another discovery during this time was a series of tapes and books called “Love and Logic” by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. I learned about ‘Helicopters, Drill Sergeants, and Consultants’, three basic forms of parenting. I learned through this program to avoid being a helicopter or a drill sergeant (most of the time) and focus on being the Consultant. What I learned from the original series of the “Love and Logic” parent training course served me and my children well.
We found a summer program that year that worked with children’s behavioral issues by teaching self-control through a hiking program. It was run by the 4th Street Project in Arlington and we enrolled both boys. Daniel still has ‘walk-abouts’ today when he needs to calm himself down. It was during this time that we discovered that Daniel was making his little brother physically uncomfortable. Daniel had always hugged, clung and wrestled with his little brother and would do so even as a young adult, if his brother had not learned how to set appropriate boundaries and be strong enough to enforce them.
After two years of mounting debt due to private schools and doctors, we sold our home, bought a live-able but decrepit home in a less affluent neighbor/school system, and I quit my job to work from home.