Friday, July 20, 2007

A True Story, Part One

It all began when she was a baby, about two months old.

She was born healthy and strong. She nursed like a champ, and almost instantly had those gorgeous, enormous breast-milk thighs, like Virginia hams. From the get-go, she was as powerful as her red hair and her regal name would suggest. Her eyes, bright and clever, surveyed everything in the room, and all five senses were completely alive, so quickly, and so acutely.

One little, tiny thing, though; she couldn't sit still in a restaurant, like all those other babies, resting placidly by the side of the table in their little buckets. Even as a two-month-old, she cried and fussed if left sitting, unstimulated, even for a few minutes. When picked up, she wiggled and squirmed until one of us picked her up and carried her around the restaurant or outside, bouncing her on our shoulders, singing, and talking. We joked that Lee would never get to sit through a meal again, but figured, hey - that's what babies are.

As she grew, and learned to crawl, then walk, her need for movement was shifted, naturally, to her own motor skills. Not just in restaurants, now, but everywhere, it was noticeable that she was different from even other very young children in this respect. She demanded interaction with others at all times. She could not sit for more than a minute or two at a time without jumping up to run around. She was bigger, louder, and more forceful than most children, and as a result, began to sort of mow them down (unintentionally) when interacting with them. In a nutshell, she just moved more than they did.

And, with us, she demanded that we be there, always. Our bedtime ritual, for example, always resulted in our holding her, in a tight bear hug, until that rigid little body softened, finally, into relaxation. (Thankfully, that's never taken very long; something about racing at 60 mph all day long makes a body tired at night, apparently.)

Her clear intelligence was startling. As a barely two-year-old child, she walked around the world pointing out hexagons, pentagons, octagons, and quatrefoils. Also at two, she knew all of her letters on sight, after I showed them to her on her alphabet puzzle maybe twice. She wrote her name right after her third birthday (I still have it, with the date).

However, there was a significant downside to this combination of intelligence and freakish energy; the tantrums. When events did not work out to her expectations - no matter how well spelled-out beforehand - she would engage in the most violent meltdowns that you have ever seen. As a baby, her fists and feet would fly, to the point that I had to physically restrain her. (And, as a two-year-old, she was the height and weight of an average four or five-year-old, and a wall of sheer, aerobically-exercised muscle to boot.)

Thankfully, the physical part of her tantrums didn't last much past the age of two. The last time I restrained her - I've had multiple hours of training in how to do this safely; don't try it at home if you're not - I was murmuring, as I always did, "I'm only controlling your body until you can control it yourself." She then looked me dead in the eye and said, "Don't under control me anymore." I said "OK, then, we're done." She's never hit or kicked since.

But oh, though, she had hundreds of meltdowns. You could see them coming. That wild-eyed energy, building up until she was too loud or ran around or grabbed something or knocked a kid down, or whatever, until one of us decided to step in and remove her. Then, there was screaming and sobbing, resulting in carrying or dragging out (it's hard to carry or drag a forty-pound three-year-old when you're pregnant, as it turns out,) and then a lengthy battle of enforcing a "time-out" with an enormously strong banshee who is flinging herself at her bedroom door.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I know something about child development and behavioral intervention. I know a great deal about it, actually. However, putting the wealth of behavioral theory that I knew into actual action was proving more difficult than I would have expected. It was about that time, right before the birth of YG, when OG had just turned four, that I figured I needed to start finding out what we were doing wrong.

So, I started reading, and began talking to my then-incredible-pediatrician, who had been observing her behavior in his quiet, inimitable way, for quite some time. We suspected sensory integration disorder, perhaps high-functioning autism. But most of all, clearly, she had severe ADHD. And, oddly enough, she began complaining of violent itching in her genital and anal area, and she started squinting when she watched television or movies. Dermatalogical and opthamalogical exams revealed no physical or vision problems whatsoever. The opthamologist, however, took one look at her and said "She has tics."

The birth of the younger girl temporarily took precedence over the pursuit of diagnoses or solutions for my dear OG. But not for long.

The YG arrived - also healthy, also strong, not as big, also with red hair - in April of 2004. Almost immediately, she was worlds apart from her older sister. This one WAS one of those babies who sat placidly in their buckets at a restaurant! She COULD sit and play by herself, and for hours at a time! She sang to her toys, cuddled her dolls, and put herself to sleep at night. And - oddly enough - we weren't raising her any differently than the other child.

So, maybe, just maybe, it wasn't all our fault.

And maybe there was a pill, or combination of pills, that could fix this.


Lee said...

The really funny thing is that, as much as we would wish that she would calm down, we would get more worried when she actually did get calm and quiet -- because that meant she was sick!

Badger said...

Duuuude. I eagerly await Part Two.

The more I hear about OG, the more she sounds like BOTH of my kids combined into one. I CANNOT IMAGINE.

Shelia said...

I also have a child with a plethora of medical/behavioral/psych problems. His history is significantly and completely different than OG's, but similar all the same. The hardest part of having kiddos like ours is that their particular issues aren't "obvious" and people certainly don't hold back to let you know your child has problems... and it's YOUR fault! If only there was something, some answer, to fix what's broken in our babies, I'd give both arms and legs for it!

My son, who is almost 13, has spent the past 7 years in and out of residential facilities because his behaviors are so severe we cannot keep him safe, nor be safe, in our home. Fortunately, he's only 55 miles from us and is making slow and steady progress, although he's fighting it every step of the way.

Prayers for you, for hubby, and for YG, that answers will eventually come, even if they are merely small bits of info at a time. It's sort of like putting a puzzle together, upside down, with the picture underneath. You are staring at all these gray cardboard shapes that never fit together and people come by, shake their heads, and occasionally turn over a piece and leave you there to figure the rest out yourself. Eventually, enough people come by and enough pieces get turned over that a bit of a picture begins to emerge. I hope that, in case you haven't already, you find someone who can turn the pieces over quickly and they fall into place easily :)

Sorry this is long... I can't help but empathize!! Awaiting Part II!