by Natalie Jaro
My teaching was then interrupted when Atticus was born in the Fall of 1999. For the first years of his life I stayed home with him. It was around the age of one that I began to notice some unusual behavior. For one, he moved constantly, a normal trait of children entering into toddlerhood, however, this movement was more frantic than most. I wasn’t the only one that was exhausted, I could see how disorganized he was, how hungry for rest, only involving himself in a few choice activities and doing them again and agin. He strewed things everywhere and never hesitated from winding a dizzying path in his wake. He stopped taking naps and didn’t like to be held nor could he sit in my lap for more than a few seconds. Then he started doing something that was particularly upsetting, he started head butting me, hard. It hurt.
It was then that I began telling people closest to me about the red flags I saw. I was deeply wounded when everyone around me did not see what I saw. All my family members, including Atticus’ father, even the pediatrician, did not share my opinion. I felt very alone during this long year from ages one to two. I had no choice but to do what I could as everyone around pegged me as an overly concerned parent. The confidence I had earned from my years as a teacher began to wane as I wondered and doubted myself. I decided to delve in whole heartedly with Atticus and try to compensate. I set up the basement of our home like a Montessori classroom and began working with him for 30-45 minutes a day, teaching and observing his natural behavior and trying to come to a conclusion. I worked with him both at home and out in public places like the park and with friends. Many of my days ended in tears and frustration. I’d take him to the grocery store or on errands, I had so many looks from other parents and comments like, ‘Why don’t you control your child’. It was exhausting, he never sat still and grabbed onto everything and did not respond to consequences or even mild punishment like time outs or taking away privileges. I began to notice that he’d ask me a question and I’d answer it but then he’d continue to repeat the question, again and again. Was the answer being processed? He began to get very disconcerted about any kind of variation from the order of things, if I drove another way home he’d be in an uproar and in tears.
Then nearing the three-year-old mark, my husband and I put him in a part time morning program at a University child developmental center in Colorado. I figured what better place than at a University center where much new research and information was going in and coming out. It was to be the beginning of a long road ahead of schools for Atticus that were not successful or productive places for him. Before long we were being called into the office to speak with Atticus’ teacher and the principal. They wanted to bring in a specialist from a non-profit organization created and funded for the purpose of early intervention for children with special needs. These approaches lasted the rest of the school year at which time we were told that the school would no longer be able to accommodate Atticus because of his aggressive behavior toward other children that involved biting, pushing and head butting. After many observations and unsuccessful approaches at both home and in the classroom we were encouraged to have a professional evaluation done.
I checked into The Children’s Hospital in Denver and arranged a battery of tests to be done. It took a few months before Atticus could be seen. So while we waited to have those tests done I took him to a local child development center where he had a speech pathologist and a occupational therapist evaluate him. The speech therapist explained that Atticus’ receptive language skills were lacking and so we began weekly speech therapy sessions. The occupational therapist also felt he needed to make important strides in both his gross and fine-motor developments. I observed these things as well but it was often difficult to get him interested. He rarely pulled away from the few fixated activities he did, like lining up cars or other objects. The occupational therapist gave me a little brush for his skin intended for sensory-integration. We’d swing him in a swing and I also had a weighted vest made for him to wear—all of which was believed to help regulate his sensory imbalance. By that time I’d read many books on ADHD, sensory integration disorder, early onset bipolar and only a little bit about autism.
Before long it was time to visit the Children’s Hospital in Denver and after a battery of tests—psychological, social, psycho-motor, cognitive and physical—we received the results. All his physical tests were normal and his cognitive tests were better than average. But, he was diagnosed with ADHD and possible early onset bipolar because of a history of it in the family. Once we had the paperwork we needed, we were able to register Atticus in a neighborhood preschool for special need’s kids. The program also integrated normally developing preschoolers as well. During this time Atticus was successful, but by the end of the year they told us that he wouldn’t qualify for special services anymore because his problems were not severe enough to warrant it. I was reluctant at this apparent push from the special needs circuit, but tried to grab onto the positive and trust that more successful school experiences were ahead. Unfortunately Atticus’ progress was soon thwarted by the ill-effects of two wrong opinions and inappropriate drugs.