Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Waiting List, Part I

This week, I'm going to share some writing I'm doing about the confusing, maddening, oh let's face it, terrible time period leading up to Blink's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. Those of you in the trenches know what I'm referring to:  the time period in which you can no longer deny that something isn't quite right, but the answers (let alone solutions) remain all too elusive.

Here's part I of the installment:


I came home from work one hot August day to find Katie, eternally cheerful Katie, who was our summer nanny, with a frown on her face. Having just moved back to Minneapolis from the east coast and transitioned from telecommuting from home to a nearly full-time job at the office, we had been in a bit of a child care crunch. To this day, I grow a bit uncomfortable when I say the words “our nanny” because the truth is, I’m just not the kind of person who has a nanny. But when you have a challenging/spirited/what-euphemism-should-we-insert-here kind of five-year-old as well as a one-year-old who will not nap without nursing, one’s last-minute child care options are limited.

Katie had come via word-of-mouth recommendations through the much loftier social circles my boss ran in. With an elementary education certification in hand, Katie was studying to become a Montessori teacher. She had seemingly endless patience. Patience, I’m afraid, my darling firstborn had just about exhausted on that Thursday in August that she cornered me with a frown.

With a serious face, Katie shared a laundry list of the day’s infractions. Blink had yelled at her many times, repeatedly telling her that he hated her and she was stupid. At the park, he threw pebbles at his baby sister, hitting her in the face. When Katie told him to stop, he looked her in the eye and did it again. Twice. Wisely deciding it was time to exit the park, Katie got the kids to her car. The car that Blink then hit with a stick. Stick removed, he hit Katie while she was buckling him into the car. Oh, it was bad. After each incident, I would cringe and steel myself as I realized that Katie wasn’t through yet, oh no. Apparently, my five-year-old son also refused to go use the bathroom and declared that he would simply pee in his pants instead. And did.

And on and on and on.

I do believe my son’s antics were the subject of many a dramatic story for Katie to bring out at family gatherings, always punctuated with the last line, “And that’s when I decided I would never, ever, nanny again.”

I was mortified by Katie’s somber descriptions, of course. But more chilling were her parting words. “I’m worried about how Blink is going to do in kindergarten. I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms and I’m just really concerned about how Blink is going to cope with the expectations they will have for behavior.” I don’t recall her coming straight out and saying the words, “I am concerned about your son’s social development,” but the gravity of her warning was clear.

My eyes wide with concern, embarrassment, and fear, I nodded silently as Katie continued. “It’s not just today,” she said. “He does this kind of thing on the playground a lot. Blink always wants to play Titanic and when the other kids don’t understand his game, or don’t want to play it, he starts yelling insults.” Oh. How charming. Oh. Oh dear. I thanked Katie, apologized one more time, and ushered her out the door just before the tears started spilling down my cheeks.

Just a few weeks earlier, I had taken Blink for his five-year-old check up with our new pediatrician. He was at his charming and talkative best and Dr. Irvin turned to me and said wryly, “Clearly he has no social development problems!” I just smiled weakly, searching for a way to say, “Well, actually...” but ultimately it was so much more comfortable to sit there and pretend it was true than to tell her my concerns right in front of Blink.

With just a few weeks before kindergarten was to begin, I wasn’t sure what to make of Katie’s warnings. Kind-hearted friends counseled that Blink was a sensitive child (true), who was reacting to a cross-country move (true) and adjusting to spending more time in child care (also true). I couldn’t shake the feeling there was more at hand, but at the same time I wasn’t quite ready to face it, and honestly, I wasn’t at all clear on what “facing it” would actually entail. All I knew, deep down, was that “normal” kids didn’t act this way and I seemed to be spending an awful lot of time wringing my hands and saying things like, “I don’t know what to do.”

The only prudent course of action, it seemed to me at the time, was to hold my breath and hope kindergarten went well...

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