I was sitting on a bench. In one hand was my daughter’s arm as she tugged and struggled, screamed and flailed in an effort to break my grip and bolt into the parking lot. The other hand was busy wiping the tears from my face. I was acutely aware of the passersby. Of their stares. Their unspoken questions. Their judgments. I was acutely aware of my inner critic telling me I’m a bad mom. Telling me I’m a failure. Telling me that I’ve screwed up my kid. Telling me there’s something terribly wrong. Telling me there’s no out, no options, no hope.
We had been in the doctor’s office. Her typical doctor was unavailable, but she was spiking a fever and miserably ill, so the old, white, male doctor had to do. He recommended a blood test. I opened the door to walk to the lab and she bolted. I chased her through the waiting room, the clinic. I caught her, cajoled her, empathized with her, bribed her, tried everything to get her to go back. She only screamed and repeated one word. No. No. No. No. No.
And that’s how I found myself on the bench. Eventually, I led her to the van, locked the doors and sobbed into the phone as my daughter continued her repetitive rant while climbing up and over and around the back seats over and over again. My husband heard my first sobs. The doctor’s nurse was next as I had to explain that we were in the parking lot and I was a miserable failure of a mom because I wouldn’t be able to get my daughter back into the lab, exam room, or even through the front doors of the clinic.
Thirty minutes later, my sobs had silenced, my daughter had silenced, we buckled up and drove home.
That night, as my husband and I talked, with a clearer head I remembered that I’m actually a pretty good mom. I finally recognized that something was different about this daughter of mine. We finally decided to stop making excuses and figure out what the hell was going on.
KBear was 6 years old before she was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, followed by epilepsy, dyspraxia, and our unofficial diagnosis of “autism lite” as she calls it.
The truth is we’d seen stuff before this. We knew she had explosive outbursts like we hadn’t experienced with our son. We knew that she was intensely opinionated and rigid. We knew that her emotions roared loudly and intensely, that transitions were nightmares, and that she was intensely defiant. But, we had reasons for it all. I understood the psychosocial aspects of giftedness, so her rages? Emotional intensity. Her aversion to sounds? Sensory intensity. Her defiance and opinionated rigidity? Typical strong-minded giftedness.
And, yes, these things accounted for some of it.
But, they couldn’t account for the intense physicality of her outbursts. They couldn’t account for the obsessive touching of objects. They couldn’t account for the call from my teen nephew in tears telling me that he didn’t know what to do and that I needed to come home to manage a KBear meltdown. And it couldn’t account for her stilted gait, her difficulty going down stairs, her language mixups, her demands to be snuggled followed by her squirming away and shouting to not be touched.
It’s a long, hard road to see that something’s different with your child. The giftedness I could see. I understood that. I accepted that. The other exceptionalities? I didn’t want to see it. I wanted it to be a phase. I wanted it to be intense emotions that, with help, would learn to be regulated. I wanted it to simply be an intensified version of typical development.
According to the National Institute on Mental Health, on average, it takes 8-10 years before a child experiencing symptoms of mental illness receives intervention. When I first learned this I was appalled, then saddened. Then, I remembered that KBear was 6 before that fateful day on the bench that led me to finally accept something was really different, and not just gifted different. Sure, her concerns are more neurological in nature, with a little anxiety mixed in for extra fun, but her parents are 2 licensed mental health professionals and it took us over 6 years, though there were signs from the beginning.
So, be kind to yourself, papa. When you’re ready, you’ll accept the differences.
Be courageous, mama. It’s scary to make that call and verbally acknowledge that something unexpected is going on with your kiddo.
Know that you aren’t alone. There are many, many of us who’ve had our kids hiding under doctor tables, tugging at our arms, screaming repetitive phrases.
Be resourceful. Read. Seek out help. Talk about it. Know that the hardest step is acknowledging and grieving that something is different.
It’s weird. For 6 years I made excuses and lived in the land of denial, fearing that someone might actually confirm that something was different with my kid. But, once we received that confirmation, it really wasn’t as scary as I thought. It was actually relieving. I was validated. My daughter was validated. She’s not just a rotten kid, she has some different wiring. I’m not just a rotten mom, I just didn’t know how to parent her in the different way she needed. My husband wasn’t just a rotten dad, he was doing the best he knew, too.
It’s been nearly 4 years since I sat on that bench. We’re learning all the magical mysteries of twice exceptionality, or at the least the version my daughter gets to live with. We parent different. We love different. We live different. We do these things not just differently, but better. And, it’s all due to that one moment I finally accepted what I already knew.
For more stories and wisdom about the discovery of a child's giftedness or twice exceptionality, check out this month's GHF Blog Hop.