Superhero is currently 6 years old, and is very big for his age (he wears size 8 clothing, and is currently 4'5" tall!). He has an amazing intellect, and his reading level is on par with that of a high school student.

Superhero spoke in complete sentences when most children his age were still using single-syllable words to express their needs. He was a breastfed baby who never had formula and self weaned at 17 months (and threw away his pacifier a month later). He walked a little late (around 13.5 months), and in fact hit most of his physical milestones on the later side of 'normal'. Since he hit his cognitive and speech milestones earlier than average, however, we weren't concerned. He was a fiercely independent baby, determined to do things on his own. One of his first words was 'light', and he would spend extended periods blissfully trying to 'catch' the sunbeams streaming through the window.

Superhero was an easygoing baby, easily adapting himself to nearly any situation. Long car trips, erratic schedules, crowds or solitude didn't seem to affect him. In fact, until his brothers were born just a few months before his third birthday, he was a model child. Even when his behavior changed drastically just after his third birthday, even when we joked that if we had known what three year olds were like we would never have had another baby, even then we assumed that his behavior was simply a reaction to spending a lot of time away during the last few months of my pregnancy (he spent a lot of time with my parents) and to having two new babies in the house. It never occurred to us that his behavior was anything other than that of a three year old dealing with his new status as big brother.

He attended a private preschool at four, and he struggled. Academically, he was fine, but his behavior was inappropriate at best. He was disruptive, often uncooperative, and occasionally aggressive (though this was mostly due to his size rather than actual aggressive behavior). Worse, when I observed him with his class, he always seemed a bit disconnected, as if he was alone in his own little bubble. He desperately tried to break out of that bubble, but seemed unsure how best to do that.

We expressed our concerns to his kindergarten teachers and principals, both of whom assured us that they were sure he would blossom in the more structured kindergarten environment. He did not. Within a few months, he had developed an ulcer and was expressing suicidal thoughts to us (there is little on this earth more frightening to the heart of a mother than hearing her child say he wished he were "dead and under the dirt"). We sought the assistance of a counselor, who tested his IQ and told us he had a below average attention span and an above average intellect (knew that, thanks). Another 'expert' told us simply that we needed to parent him better, without giving us any advice on how to do so, but assured us that he most certainly was NOT autistic.

Let me pause for a moment to say that this last sentence was exactly what I wanted to hear. All I wanted was to be told my child was fine, I just needed to do a better job as his mother. To me, this was the best possible outcome--I could take a class or two, read a few books, maybe even undergo some therapy myself, and I could make all my son's problems go away (technically sons' problems, but I'm only talking about Superhero for this post :P) If I just tried harder, knew more, GAVE more, then he would be fine. All he needed was a better mother, and if all else failed, I could find him a better mother.

Sound familiar? If so, take a minute to think about it. Alternatively, think about all the people who are telling you that this is true--that all your child needs is more discipline, more structure, more reinforcement, more time. Ask yourself if you believe it--do you really think you're not trying hard enough? Do you really think that just a little more effort on your part is going to fix everything? If so, then by all means put forth the effort. But if the thought of giving any more makes you feel empty, desperate, lost, then please, take a moment and consider that it may not be YOU.

But back to my Superhero. :D While I was still dealing with trying to figure out exactly how to parent him better, we were told our younger two needed an official diagnosis to expand the treatments they were receiving, and my wonderful Father-in-Law called in a few favors to get evaluations done in a few weeks rather than the months and months it was going to take elsewhere. At the last minute, we asked that Superhero be evaluated as well, hoping to get SOME clue as to what he needed, or at the very least have an official 'there is nothing wrong with this child other than his parents' diagnosis. Again, I want to say that the last was what I was wishing for. However, just a few weeks before, after the third 'program' tried by his school counselor failed to illicit any improvement in his classroom behavior and we were left with little more than a hope that he would magically improve over the summer, I had begun to strongly question the earlier analysis of our parenting. After all, the person who made that analysis had met with Superhero for a total of 15 minutes, with other people in the room, and in a controlled, new environment. His school had had him for 8 hours a day for almost an entire school year at this point, and they, too, were struggling for answers. How could the problem be that NONE of the adults in his life--parents, grandparents, teachers, counselors--had figured out the 'correct' parenting techniques, particularly when we had all tried so many different approaches? I was willing to believe that I was somehow lacking, but it was harder for me to accept that kindergarten teachers with decades of experience, a principal who had been working with elementary students for years, and a school counselor trained in dealing with children and their idiosyncrasies could all be 'bad parents'. (I'll explore this more fully in a later post).

So we took him to the specialist--a psychologist with years of experience working with children and the state education system. And a few hours later, our preliminary diagnosis was in--ADHD, the symptoms of which were masking Asperger's Syndrome.

We weren't shocked by any means. We had actually discussed ADHD a few weeks before as a possibility. Moreover, we were expecting an autism diagnosis for at least one of our twins, and all the latest research tells us that if one child is autistic, the other children in the household are likely to exhibit autism, or at least aspects of it, too. We had, as best we could, prepared ourselves for this diagnosis. In addition, we saw it not as an end, but rather another piece to the puzzle, another avenue to explore in our search to help our son realize his potential.

What we hadn't considered was the effect the news would have on Superhero. We didn't discuss it in advance, but we have always attempted age-appropriate honesty with our children, so not telling him about it wasn't even a consideration in my mind. It took him a few days to absorb the news, and to be honest, I'm still not sure he's grasped all of it. Our first conversation about it went something like this:

Superhero: So what is Asperger's? Does it mean there's something wrong with me?
Me: No, it just means your brain works in a different way than some other people's.
Superhero: So my brain is wrong?
me: No, it's not wrong. More like . . . it's more like a superpower. Your brain is so amazing that it's a superpower. The problem is that you don't know how to control your powers yet.
Superhero: You mean like the X-Men, the kids?
Me: yes, a lot like the X-men. You need to learn to control your superpowers just like the x-men needed to learn to control their powers.

A few days later . . .

Superhero: Mommy, am I an alien?
me: no, why would you ask that?
Superhero: 'cause sometimes I feel like an alien, like this isn't really my planet.

A friend posted this link on their facebook page a few days later, and Superhero really seemed to like it.

So that's where we are. Superhero will finish up kindergarten in just a few days, and we will consider ADHD medications this summer. I am also going to consult an occupational therapist to see if she thinks OT would help him. He has already shown vast improvement since his preschool days, and we fully expect even more improvement now that we have some idea of what's going on with him.

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