As little (big) Wolfe got older, I began to notice some quirks. He had some developmental delays that were quickly attributed to being born premature. He walked late, but he had braces on his legs for 23 hours a day until he was 18 months old, so there was a reason. He talked late, but he was a preemie, and he was verbal, just not a chatterbox, so it was okay. He played rough and did not respect personal boundaries of others, but what do you expect when your 2 year old is the size of a 5 year old? He is a big puppy. Sometimes he puts his hands over his ears, but it seems that happens mostly when someone is telling him to do something he doesn’t want to do, etc. So, whatever, he is a rebel, like his mom and dad were as kids. It’s genetic. He has always been engaging, good eye contact, great imagination, plays with toys appropriately, understands (amazingly well) the emotions of others, and he is BRILLIANT. He can take apart and put together anything, he knew his ABCs and the phonics of each letter at 2 years old, as his language developed he found a vocabulary that out matched many adults I know. He is SUPER smart. So smart that I began to wonder. . . .
Let me point out that throughout the years I often asked his doctors of possible ASD, and ADHD. It was always agreed that he has ADHD. Diagnosis for ADHD are not given typically until a child is in school, because they need to be assessed in 2 different environments to meet the criteria. Wolfe could be the poster boy for ADHD. He is a spirited fireball of energy and light bouncing around the galaxy almost constantly. A few months into TK we were able to start the process for a formal diagnosis. ASD was always quickly dismissed because of Wolfe’s engaging demeanor and ability and desire to interact with others. He doesn’t stim, he doesn’t have sensory challenges (beside some sensitivity to sound), he is very well spoken, etc. His social problems were attributed to his impulsive nature and lack of personal space awareness, it was an ADHD problem. So again, I gladly accepted this opinion, it was what I wanted to hear.
I am a severe Autism paraeducator, and I love my job, I know I am talented. I began teaching when Wolfe was 2 years old. I feel I have a natural ability to connect with children on the spectrum, and have helped dozens of children learn and grow. I have deep and real love for my students, and being able to work with these kids is my greatest gift from the universe, after being a mom. Autism is a beautiful thing to know, and to share the world with these kids has been such an astronomically life changing and positive thing. So, if anyone could recognize some ASD qualities in my Wolfe, it would be me. Right?
It didn’t take more than a couple months after Wolfe started school (TK) that his unique differences started creating some very serious challenges for him (and the school staff). I dreaded getting phone calls at work. “Your son peed from the top of the slide during recess, we sent him to the office”, “your son is running through the parking lot laughing, no one can catch him, please come to the school”, “your son spit water like a fountain on a little girl”, “your son has been cussing”, “he hit another kid while sharing a toy”, “detention”, “suspension”. . . . .”we want to do assessments”.
Wolfe’s teacher is a talented and amazing educator who truly went the extra mile to help him. She will forever hold a place in my heart, she saw the magic in him that I do, and she invested in it, she helped him so much. She has been his biggest advocate, and I don’t know how we could have ever got through this year without her. Everything and everyone else at the school dealt me a hand of stress I have only experienced during very few other nightmareish times in my life. The staff at the school were rude, they gaslighted me, they took my son’s atypical behavior as a personal attack and tried to make me pay the price for that with my soul. They didn’t return phone calls, they lied to me about stupid little things. My son was running that school, and they were going to make sure I suffered for it. They lost my trust, and for months I considered taking him out of school, and homeschooling until Kindergarten (TK is optional in California, it is like a second year of kindergarten). We had them run an assessment in order to get a 504 plan, or an IEP if needed. He desperately needed resources. He was testing 2 years above his grade level, yet was throwing pencil boxes and IPADS across the room for no reason. He was beginning to read (self taught) at 4 years old yet would elope (run away) at any given moment, laughing, and having the time of his life with a trail of staff on his tail. Twice as big as the majority of his classmates when he was too rough, kids were getting hurt. All of the drama began to hurt his self esteem, and it completely shattered my heart to see him sad. Many days when I got home from work, knowing already he had a rough one, I wouldn’t say a word, I would just hug him, tell that I’m always proud of him even on bad days, and try to talk about the things he did that were cool or did well that day. He was 4 years old at the time, and had a zest for life that was too big even for his britches. He was a brilliant, impulsive, rowdy class clown, and was starting to endanger himself (and others) with his stunts and aggressive moments. The school was over it. So when they asked if they could run an autism assessment, my first thought was, they are trying to get rid of him. He goes to a very small country school, if you’re not a cookie cutter kid, you’re out. I told them no way, I am not authorizing you to test my child. Dish out some funding, give him a para, put him on a behavior plan, my son has the right to an education, he does not belong in an autism classroom. I felt like it was an act of war, and I was ready for it, nobody messes with my best friend, nobody messes my baby.
I was in the trenches that’s for sure. This war consumed me. I thought about it constantly. I fell asleep to hypothetical conversations, I woke to them. I researched hours on end. I cried, I raged, I was depressed. When we had the pre IEP meeting, I went in guns blazing, it felt as if they were really nitpicking my son to death to fit their narrative. A few days after that for whatever reason, I started to question my position. What if I was wrong…maybe I do not see Wolfe with the same eyes that I see my students, because he is my son. What if I unintentionally prohibit him from being understood more deeply, from receiving appropriate help? What if Autism is part of his identity and I rob that from him? After all I have seen the beauty of Autism, I know it does not stop life, and to me, if anything, it gives life an extra layer of wonder and genius. I had a few people in my professional life go over the assessments, and although the assessments showed challenges associated with children with ADHD being overwhelmingly dominant, there were enough ASD concerns for the consensus of allowing additional assessments to be supported. I had someone who I respect greatly in the field meet Wolfe, in an environment that let us be unapologetically us, and we talked, and I agreed that there were certainly some characteristics there that would point to high functioning ASD. So I sat on my feelings about everything for a few days, and then had an epiphany, and I listened to what my heart has always told me, Wolfe is special, he is not typical, and guess what, it’s going to be alright. The moment I let my heart be open, the moment I swallowed my pride and concrete ideas, it felt like a wave of relief swept across me. I have felt at peace with this since then. We have OK’d the process to begin more assessments. He has been doing better at school with a para, and a behavior plan being implemented. His school has agreed they will continue to push in services for him, and that the best place for him is in a mainstream classroom. Unfortunately a week after our IEP the schools shut down because of the pandemic, but I am glad he was able to end on a really high note. Assessments will continue when we go back.
At this moment Wolfe and I have been at home for 3 months. I feel as if I have really been so connected with him during this time. He is learning and growing every single day, it’s such a wonder to watch him grow. I have definitely noticed a lot of interesting things about my little guy, and I have to say, it’s been a beautiful experience to learn with my heart on my sleeve. He is so smart, he is such a sneaky little devil, he is so loving, and happy, and I am happy too. Recently Wolfe has found this video, it’s a small clip, he has watched it dozens of times. The video is of Starlings flying over the ocean. It takes his breath away, and I cant help but smile and think of how far we have come, and dream of how far we can go. #futurepresident