One of the reasons I didn’t want to send my son to regular school is because I didn’t want him labeled. While he is extremely smart, he is also one of “those kids” and I didn’t want him stuck with labels that weren’t true. I had read the lists of symptoms for ADHD, and while he had most of hyperactivity and impulsivity traits, he had none of the attention deficit problems.
I homeschooled him in kindergarten, which was very much a village effort, as I was in my final year of nursing school. I kept my options open by applying him to a new charter school, whose philosophy of education I was excited about, both for K (he was 56 on the wait list) and again for 1st grade. When I applied him for 1st grade, I prayed and basically told God that if he didn’t get in then I would know that homeschooling him was what I should continue to do. He didn’t get in.
Over the summer my Grandma broke her hip and eventually was moved into my mom’s home on hospice. This removed my mom’s ability to help with my son, and also provided employment for me; while I continue to job-hunt for an RN position. As the school year approached, I was dreading it. I was overwhelmed and just didn’t know how I was going to make it work this year. But I just kept telling myself that this must be the right choice, because he didn’t get into the other school, that God had a plan, and it would all work out.
The Tuesday morning before school was supposed to start, I was driving home when the phone rang. I answered, and the voice on the other end told me that a spot had come open in 1st grade and my son was next on the list. I asked if I could get back to them by the end of the day and hung up the phone. My son was in the back seat, and I told him the news. He reacted with anger. When we got home, I left him raging outside and immediately went to talk to my mom.
I was so overwhelmed by the unexpected news that I just started crying. I was scared to make this choice, for what it might mean for him, and I was also relived. Throughout the course of the morning, I prayed and I talked to his dad, and to my good friend. My mom talked with Zachary about new opportunities and he quickly changed his tune, becoming excited about this new adventure. By noon I had made my choice, called them back and accepted the spot.
That was Tuesday. Meet your teacher night was Wednesday, and school started Thursday. We scrambled to find uniforms, met the teachers and showed up Thursday morning for drop off. I walked him to class, gave him a hug and walked away, he didn’t even ask for a second one. I couldn’t have been prouder.
But he quickly started struggling. He was getting in trouble quite often. Little things and big things. Some things could be chalked up to adjustment or being a 6 year old boy, but some couldn’t.
After the first time I volunteered in his classroom, I was mortified. I came home and researched ADHD diet modification. I KNEW he didn’t have the AD part, but the HD side was terrible from what I observed in class. That weekend I removed all artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and MSG from his diet. By Monday I was hopeful, as he seemed to be calmer. But I knew I was going to need more help than that. So I went to the Principle and Vice Principle. I told them I knew he was having a hard time adjusting, and I wanted to be proactive about it. I asked about a school psychologist, but they instead referred me to Youth Services, who in turn, because of his insurance, referred me to a private psychology office.
We had an evaluation and started regular appointments. And then he got suspended from school. Nothing I had been trying seemed to be getting through to him. So I went into crisis discipline mode, pulled him out of soccer, removed all the toys from his room, took away all privileges. It wasn’t easy, but his therapist suggested it and backed me up on it. She also said they wanted to do some testing.
Testing means labels. What could she want to test for? I racked my brain. I came up with only one reasonable option. At the next appointment she said they had gotten authorization, and they wanted to test him for Asperger’s. I wasn’t surprised, because that was the same thing I had come up with.
I had never considered Asperger’s before the mention of testing. But I had always known that there was something different about my son, and the way he related to the world. So it just made sense.
Not everyone felt that way however. Some family straight up denied it as a possibility, others tried to tell me reasons it might not be true. But my mother’s intuition knew it was the truth, it just made sense. My closest friends were the most understanding, making sure I was ok, then telling me that he is a great kid, and this wouldn’t change anything.
A few weeks later it was confirmed that his diagnosis was Asperger’s.
After all my anguish over not wanting to send him to school to get labeled, you would think I would be upset. I wasn’t. My main emotion was one of relief. Relief that he wasn’t a “bad” kid, relief that there was a reason for some of his behaviors, relief that with this new understanding, would come better ways to help him.
I also felt vindicated. Like finally I had an answer for all the people who looked at him and me with disapproval, or told me I coddled him, or I should spank him more, or best yet “I know you’re a single mom and all, but you need to do something about him, he is just bad.” I felt like screaming to the world: SEE I knew he was different, that he wasn’t just trying to be bad. SEE I knew I was right for trying to understand his feelings rather than just making him do things. SEE I was right to talk with him and not just punish. SEE I was doing the best I knew how!
So now we are living with a label. Does it change who he is? No. He is the same sweet, funny, intelligent, artistic, articulate boy he has always been. And I have learned an important lesson: Not all labels are bad. They are not something to be afraid of. If it is the right one, they can help bring understanding.