By Natalie Jaro
To Read Part 1 & 2, click here.
The Children’s Hospital recommended a psychiatrist who began Atticus on some medications for his ADHD. The medication negatively aggravated his emotional state so we changed his medications and doses a few times until we found a combination that seemed to produce only some positive change. We continued to try medications but to no avail. Eventually we went to another psychiatrist who declared Atticus’ condition as not ADHD, by early onset bipolar. We began to try other combinations of drugs, all of which made the problem worse. Finally our son’s psychiatrist admitted he was not entirely clear what the problem was and suggested we get another opinion. Meanwhile, during all these pharmacological changes, Atticus was asked to leave four different schools he attended. It was all a whirlwind, why we didn’t just put Atticus back in public school I’ll never know. It was an absolute mistake despite the insistence by special services that he needed a more challenging environment.
It was then that I found a small, private, special-education school for Atticus for the summer. This went well, and it was here that his teacher recommended a doctor for us to see in Evergreen. Within two minutes of entering into his office he knew what was wrong, “Your son has autism.” It was only then that I knew he’d made the cored diagnosis. I then said, “Actually, I’m relieved he doesn’t have bipolar disorder.” To which the doctor gently replied, that if he had to decide as a parent, for one or the other, he’d chose bipolar disorder. “Autism,” he said, “is much more debilitating.”
A person with bipolar disorder, he explained, is able to experience a wide-range of emotions and, although difficult, can still connect with people. Autism, on the other hand, is like being cut off, in a bubble, and unable to see outside oneself.
I was relieved and devastated all at the same time. At least we could offer a concentrated effort now that we’d tracked down an accurate conclusion after many years of tail chasing. I finally felt like I could breathe, we’d begin a repertoire of medications (once again) meant to target the movement disorder. Lo and behold, the medications finally worked. They did not eliminate the problem, but for the first time ever, they made it possible to hold Atticus still in my arms, and for him to connect with other people.
By this time Atticus was back in another public school. This school was located on the other side of our neighborhood and had a special needs program that integrated children with autism throughout the school. Most of the teachers were trained to understand and help those student with autism. In the last two years, Atticus has finally become successful in school, he loves to go, and for the first time ever, he has positive support all around him—from peers to his homeroom teachers, even the school nurse. He went this summer to a computer camp and made it through the course with relative ease.
It has been an overwhelming obstacle to get to where we are now. I know that many parents of children with autism live day in and day out with much more severe variations of the disorder. I have listened to them on forums and in classrooms and at lectures. I have read about them in books, magazines and in interviews. I have seen them on television and have met them at my child’s therapy. To anyone affected by autism, we owe an ear and a lending hand. For those us who do not have autism, it requires stepping into another person’s shoes.
People always say how loving Atticus is–if you help him with something, he loves you forever. Often he says to me, “Ah, Mom, you’re so sweet.” Atticus would not be the person he is today without all the help he has received along the way. Even if he will never be able to step inside my shoes, the shoes Atticus wears are big enough for the whole world. All the world needs to do is just try them on.