In 2016, we learned that my husband would be sent to Korea for a year. I battled back and forth with different options, but ultimately decided to stay with my parents while he was gone. By February 2017, we were living with my parents and began the process of settling in. Three of our four children began school the same day we registered them, but our youngest son, Isaiah, would not be as fortunate.
When we showed up at his home school, we were turned away. They told us that we needed to wait to hear from our district as to where he would be temporarily placed, but by the time they finally contacted us, my husband had already flown overseas.
This was not at all how we imagined things would go. We had worked tirelessly to set all of our children up for success, but this circumstance was simply out of our hands. I imagined my husband and me taking our son to his new school, meeting his teacher together, taking pictures, and doing a clean hand off, a smooth transition.
But smooth was not how things went. In fact, it turned into an absolute nightmare. Weeks were passing by, and our son was in limbo and struggling emotionally.
Isaiah was at his temporary location for only a matter of days before they called again, but this time with his permanent location. Come Monday morning, I drove him to his new school, parked, did some more paperwork in the office, and then we were led to his classroom.
That’s when everything finally hit the fan. His teacher came out to greet him, and I quickly went to introduce us both. Then it happened… Isaiah protested and began to feign ill. With some coaxing from both of us, we were able to get him to go with her and sit with his new friends.
But that didn’t last very long.
The First Phone Call
I can’t remember exactly how this transpired, but here’s the snapshot of how things went.
The principal called me to tell me that my sweet, kind, loving Isaiah had been oppositional and threw pencils across his classroom.
I was stunned.
Never has he behaved remotely close to this, and I was at a loss as to what to do.
The rest of the school year was really just one long, dragged out version of that first day. I finally accepted that my playful boy would be bringing home low oranges and reds on a daily basis for his behavior. He was child number three and the first to have me meeting with a principal and receiving upsetting calls and emails on a regular basis.
His mental state was also declining, and I became concerned. I reached out to a therapist and had him visit with her regularly. During that time something fascinating occurred.
Isaiah brought home a positive green on his behavior chart. At first, I stared at it not knowing what to make of it. I brushed it off as a mistake and didn’t think twice about it.
The next day he brought home a positive blue. At that point I thought to myself… he must have mixed it up with another child’s chart by mistake.
Then it happened for a third consecutive day, but this time it was purple—the top of the top.
By now I needed some answers so I asked Isaiah about it, but he stuck to his story that he had earned that color. “The teacher must have had a near death experience and has gained a new outlook on life or something because this is a huge change of heart.”
Or so I thought.
Then it crossed my mind that maybe he was taking someone else’s chart on purpose or he figured out the system well enough to color it in himself.
Never once, after nearly half a year, could I imagine he actually earned those colors.
These meetings were always comprised of his principal, his teacher, a few other specialists, and me. At the last meeting, I shared the story about his odd week with the behavior chart.
At the end of that meeting, one of the gentlemen asked me what had changed.
“Did his father come home? Are you using new disciplinary methods at home? Do you think he’s been successful because of the therapy he’s been receiving?”
To which I replied, “I’m glad you asked. As I said I was curious myself as to what was going on, so I asked his after school care program’s teacher if she knew anything, and as it turned out… Isaiah had a sub that week.”
Now, this blog entry isn’t to single out a teacher or school, but rather to share with you the importance of working closely with your child’s school to know all that’s going on and to reiterate the importance of trusting your gut.
I’d like to say that therapy did wonders, but that wouldn’t be accurate. My son went from a boy with low self-esteem, poor self-image, and little self-worth to a happy child as soon as school let out.
Yes, he still had some behavior issues at summer camp, but not at all to the severity as he exhibited during his academic year. That teacher wasn’t a good match for him, even though she was highly regarded and praised by many.
Let me fast forward to today. Yesterday morning my son received his results from his most recent and third psychological examination.
As soon as she said that, my mind raced from present day 2019 to years back in 2017 when my son completely unraveled. He was closest to his father since he was an infant, and my husband had just left us for the first time since Basic Training and AIT.
We moved from one state to another.
He bounced around between three schools before finally being placed at a permanent one.
And while we were staying with my parents, they moved almost immediately after.
My son’s life went from predictable to blender-mode in less than a month. No wonder, right?
But there’s more.
In 2017 he was diagnosed with ADHD. Mind you, they told me he tested as autistic, but because he did baby sign language and reached all of his developmental milestones, they said he couldn’t be autistic.
This was baffling to me, so I fought for a second opinion. The second opinion group, in essence said, “We agree with what the first people said, but we’re going to add that he needs ABA therapy.” Now, some of you may already know that ABA therapy is not covered unless there is an autism diagnosis.
Boy, oh boy, what a pickle we were in. And as it turned out, the people who did his second opinion were close to those who performed his first evaluation. I think the part that added insult to injury was that, due to us being in the middle of his second opinion, my husband extended his time away from us by five months. He wanted to ensure our son received his diagnosis before he returned home so we wouldn’t be sent to a duty station that wasn’t equipped to offer appropriate services.
It felt like we lost all of that time for nothing.
But not all was lost.
Isaiah’s ADHD diagnosis was enough to get us stationed at a place where he would ultimately and finally receive a complete, correct, and whole diagnosis.
And that is, Adjustment Disorder and Autism.
It took years longer than it needed to, and I mourn that time lost because it would have avoided much of the confusion, unnecessary stress, and emotional roller coaster of an experience. My son would likely not be failing in school right now, but rather strengthening his skills and have a working IEP. The people who first evaluated him said, “Autistic people can’t sign.” And they based their evaluation on that mistaken belief system.
I knew then that they were mistaken, but it fell on deaf ears (no pun intended.)
I cannot undo the hurt our family has endured, but I can share our journey with you in hopes of helping even one family from going through a similar path. Arm yourselves with knowledge, follow your gut even if you don’t understand everything, and never give up on advocating for your child(ren).
You are the specialist on your child.
You see your child for more than a two- or three-hour block of one-on-one testing times, free of other distractions. This journey has made me an advocate for autism education, and I’ll continue to share my son’s story to teach as many as I can possibly reach.