It’s an auspicious start to the school year when your 3-year old comes home from preschool with a disciplinary note in the first four days of school. “Hitting,” “kicking,” and “destroying,” were the verbs his teachers employed. “Frowning,” “hair pulling,” and “sighing” were the verbs that followed.
For over a year, I’ve taken Jesse to music classes and story times, playgrounds and sporting events; anything to get him appropriately socialized in preparation for the upcoming school year. He was excited to follow in Noah and Grace’s footsteps. He wasn’t the only one. “Freedom!” my mind screamed. I stifled a fist pump after depositing them all in their classrooms. Fantasies of mornings on the porch with my laptop and a cup of coffee abounded. Perhaps I am of a different breed than those crying-on-the-first-day mothers. I am, I think, more of the crying-when-the-school-year-ends types. I mean, I’m going to get them back in only SEVEN HOURS. That is not nearly enough time to miss them.
But, I also had my reservations.
Jesse is energetic, funny, musically inclined. His dimples and blonde hair carry him farther than I’d like to admit. He’s also clumsy, obsessed with fire trucks, prone to singular arrangements of objects, and highly aggressive toward others. He prefers to play by himself, his memory is exceptional, and he’s quite verbal. Unusually verbal. Think “Of COURSE I’m not going to school mom, that’s ridiculous!” kind of verbal. Or, “That fire fighter will certainly fall off that ladder – it’s far too tall for him” sort of verbal.
When Jesse was eighteen months old, we had him evaluated by the Kennedy Krieger Institute, the same highly respected clinic from which Noah’s diagnosis springs. Our pediatric neurologist had suggested that we have all our kids evaluated for developmental delays because these diagnoses seem to run in families, with a particular predilection for brothers. Statistics show that the risk of an ASD diagnosis for male infants who had an older sibling with ASD was more than 26 percent.
During his initial evaluation, Jesse was diagnosed with a language delay. But without therapy or intervention, the delay righted itself in three months. He went from a 5-10 word vocabulary to complete sentences in the time it takes for Katy Perry to dye her hair.
It is possible that Jesse may have a developmental delay like his brother Noah; that he will, himself, receive an Asperger’s or other Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. This is the smoke I see creeping toward us, the insidious lurking that threatens to disrupt our status quo. And in an effort to prevent another round of “you’re being over-reactionary” commentary, I’ve kept my mouth shut. Well, until now, when I’m blogging about it.
I lay bare my mother’s heart today because I have come to the conclusion that a diagnosis isn’t going to make two coons worth of difference to Jesse or us. Of course, it will change how he is educated. It will change how we spend our free time as we look to find appropriate therapies. It will alter the tactics we employ during his most difficult struggles. But an ICD-9 code means more to our insurance company than it does to us. Yeah, you hear that, Aetna? I’m coming for you.
At bottom, and more importantly, who Jesse is will not change because of a label. And believe me, his meltdowns will be no easier to weather just because someone in an office in Baltimore has given what he has a name. (When your preschooler is spitting at people in Wal-Mart, it’s hard to stomach either way.)
God does not abandon the work of His hands (Psalm 138:8). There was no cosmic “whoops!” when our youngest was born. Instead, God’s power is made perfect in all of Jesse’s weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and He’s raised all of us up for a purpose – that His power might be shown (Exodus 9:16). So ultimately, Jesse is put together just the right way, for the right time, and the right parents. No question, no mistake. Only perfect construction, fueled by perfect power.
And if it turns out that Jesse has no ASD after all – that he’s just quirky, exceptional, and VERY strong willed? Well, we’re ready for that, too. Because either way, we’re going to need a seat belt.