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My Son Isn't Fine

Young red haired boy blowing a dandeloin
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

He seems fine. That’s what everyone tells us about our son, and that’s what I’m telling you, before we get any further with this story. E. is an 11-year-old boy with brown hair he does not comb, brown eyes that spark and flash when he is plotting trouble, a right arm that pitches shut-outs for his Little League team, and a pair of legs that do not run nearly as fast around the bases as his baseball coach wants.

At first he was a “tough baby”; then a “wild toddler.” In preschool he was one of the “crazy boys.”

He moves at school and at baseball in a cloud of buddies, and so even though no one calls him to play once they get home, it is hard to say he is exactly lonely. The nails on both hands are bitten to the quick, but he stops before they start bleeding. He reads aloud with the fluency of a high schooler; probe closer, though, and you realize he only absorbed parts of what he recited. He is sweet, funny—a real crowd pleaser. But his tempers still have the power to send my stomach into a clench.

His neuropsychologist says he has “processing issues.” As in, you talk to him and he doesn’t listen to every word. He reads and misses whole phrases. But beyond that, he has “poor executive functioning.” I know, it sounds like he struggles to knot a tie. What it means is he is mentally disorganized. He faces his own messy room and panics because he does not know where to start the clean-up process. Take him to a county fair and within a couple hours, he’s overwhelmed because his brain can’t sort all the images, smells, sounds and sensations coming at him. Put him into a classroom of 25 kids, and between missing half the directions he’s hearing, skipping chunks of the words he’s reading and struggling to sort and organize the myriad actions and reactions around him, well, he’s basically miserable.

It took us all of his eleven years to figure this out. At first he was a “tough baby”; then a “wild toddler.” In preschool he was one of the “crazy boys.” Later, as he moved through elementary school, he morphed into “a behavior problem,” or, “a smart kid who isn’t trying hard enough,” or, simply, “Wow! What a handful!” But after finally dropping serious cash on a neuropsych evaluation and a behaviorist and a therapist and a psychiatrist (what do families do without our resources?), we know that screaming and kicking, hitting and cursing do not have to be E’s fallback mode of communication.

He recently started a new middle school, and here’s the cool thing: the room he’s in, at our local public school, has one teacher, two aides, and six other students. He qualifies for it with his IEP (individualized education plan, for those not immersed in special ed lingo).

Finally, his classroom and his classwork feel manageable to him. I admit, I had some hesitancy about the extreme isolation. What he’s found, though, is when he walks out of the room to go to lunch, P.E., his beloved art class elective—he’s calm. He’s happy. He’s not anxious or distressed at all.

Now, it’s only been three days, but each day he’s come home on the good side of volcanic. I find myself just starting to hope…. Granted, I’ve been here before only to see my optimism dashed, but I guess I prefer optimism… Anyway, I’m starting to think: fine. Maybe, my E. is going to be fine.

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