When Ian was about 7 years old, I heard about Asperger Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. I read about it and thought, "This sounds like Ian!" The clues were: attachment issues, lack of sleeping when he was a baby, advanced verbal skills at an early age, sensory issues (food textures/flavors, bright lights, loud sounds, some clothing textures), being INCREDIBLY FOCUSED on one subject and knowing everything there was to know about it, talking "at" people instead of "with" them, difficulty with changes, difficulty with transitions from one thing to another (changing or stopping activities), difficulty feeling sympathy or empathy, and difficulty navigating social situations. I brought all of this up to his psychologist, she asked me a few more questions, and Ian was finally diagnosed as being high-functioning Asperger Syndrome.
On the one hand, it was sad to know that my child had a DIAGNOSIS and a LABEL, but, on the other hand, it didn't actually change anything about him, and it was nice to know that it WASN'T MY FAULT that he acted the way he did....
I really hesitated to medicate Ian, despite his CONSTANT
Each time we would try a medication the doctor would say something like, "Now, this medication MIGHT help with such-or-so, but he is still going to be the same child he's always been. It might HELP, but the problem behaviors aren't going to go away." The first medication we tried had been recommended by a director of child psychiatry. I thought that I had died and gone to Heaven! Ian was A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CHILD! He was PLEASANT, and CALM, and EASY TO GET ALONG WITH, and HE DIDN'T FIGHT OR ARGUE WITH ME ABOUT EVERY! SINGLE! THING! I was so happy to FINALLY get a chance to enjoy this child! BUT. He gained 10 pounds in a month (one of the side effects of the medication), and that sort of unhealthy weight gain was going to continue. I count it as one of my finer moments of motherhood that I did not choose to have him continue taking that medication even though
Along with trying different medications, I also took all food dyes and as many artificial ingredients and preservatives as I could out of Ian's diet. We tried 3 or 4 other medications, but they either didn't have any effect or they had negative side effects. It was time for us to move again, so we stopped trying different medications, but we stuck with the dietary changes.
I never was able to figure out if there was one specific food coloring or other ingredient that was causing him problems, but when I cut those things out of his diet, he did seem to be less.....I don't know.....Irritable? Reactive? Whatever it was, he never tried to break someone's arm with his bare hands again, and I was no longer worried that he was going to hurt someone in a fit of rage.
I took a VERY firm stance concerning his dietary restrictions for about 3 years (ages 7-10), which was difficult when so many activities involved some sort of pre-packaged snack, and I suddenly noticed how often people try to give candy (usually full of food coloring) to children. When Ian would ask why he couldn't have a certain thing, I would tell him which ingredients had caught my attention and that I was afraid those things were affecting his behavior; end of discussion. He would be disappointed or frustrated, but he also realized that his behavior was causing him a lot of trouble, so he soon stopped asking about things he knew he couldn't have. I also made sure that I had things on hand that he COULD eat. I have relaxed a little in the past year and haven't noticed any ill-effects. I wonder if the food dyes, artificial flavors, and preservatives somehow irritated his immature, already-irritable, overloaded body? Maybe removing those things from his diet gave his body a chance to mature with one less irritation to deal with and now he can handle those things in small amounts? I guess it is another mystery....
When Ian was about 8 years old, I came up with a behavior chart that FINALLY seemed to be just right. I had made many, many, MANY different charts in the past, but they just hadn't been....exactly what I wanted, but this one was just what I had been looking for and trying to create for so long. This chart allowed me to give him constant, immediate feedback all day long, without me having to decide, at the moment, every single time he did something what the consequence was going to be.
When he was TEN YEARS OLD, Ian's behavior FINALLY calmed down.
Ten years of:
*having to carefully transition him from one activity to another: "OK, 10 more minutes at the park/playing with Legos/coloring/watching TV....5 more minutes....1 more minute....time's up!" And even then he had a fit when his time was up...
*having to thoroughly prepare him for every change to his routine: this is what will happen when we go on vacation, the new baby comes, we move to our new house....
*taking ear muffs when we were going somewhere with lots of noise, like a restaurant
*taking sunglasses when we were going somewhere bright, like the dentist
*having to ask him 3 or 4 or 10 times to do something, like pick up his shirt, or clear his dishes off the table, or put his book away....
It was a long ten years.
Ian will be 12 soon. The past 2 years have been SO! MUCH! EASIER! (His current psychologist told me that it is often this way with Asperger kids: they are
I fought off the ADHD/ADD label as long as I could, wanting to be sure that it wasn't just an issue of his age/maturity/gender, and he DID outgrow the "H", but last year I finally relented when I saw him highly motivated to do something and being unable to do it because he just COULD NOT pay attention =(. I had still been feeling bad that the Aspergers came from my side of the family, but I can see that the ADD comes from Husband's side of the family: we only have ONE Aspie, but we have 3-4 (it's not looking good for Baby) with ADD, so I don't feel SO bad anymore ;-)!
Interestingly: I graduated in Special Education, but it never occurred to me that I would end up using my skills with my own children! (And they didn't really cover how to deal with this behavior 24/7 anyway...)