My youngest boy is a quirky little fella.
I’ve written on this blog a few times about his energy levels. He is the Master of Distractible and Fidgetty. He has always been a “bull at a gate”. He rushes in without thinking, and is all over the place. He breaks his toys, not maliciously, but all of a sudden the toy dragon he is holding has all of its legs snapped off, and he is wailing that it was by accident. We have a large pile of amputee toy critters and figures. And he is LOUD! Our older boys are wary of him in play as they say he hurts them because he doesn’t know when to stop and doesn’t listen to them.
As he has got older, the gap between what is due to him ‘being little’ and what is ‘different’ has grown wider.
These struggles have not served him well at school, Whilst the teachers and carers at long daycare adored him, this boys’ differences became more noticeable when he went to school. First grade in 2012 was his Annus Horribilis with a harsh and ineffective teacher. It was a really tough year for him academically, socially and emotionally at school, and I put his behaviour at home down to his struggles at school. Our positive parenting skills have always served us well, but this third kid truly taught me how to be a parent because he could be just so tricky at times. I had never encountered such an emotional child.
Last year he had one of the best teachers on the planet. I thought at the start of last year that if he didn’t do well (socially and emotionally) throughout the year under the loving care of this particular teacher, then I might need to get him some extra support.
And he did do very well at school last year. His reading level came up and he got into the more advanced maths class for his grade. Although the social and emotional problems eased, he still had some problems. The few friends he made were quirky kids like him. This is fine, but when I had them for a visit at our place, I could see how emotionally immature my son really was. And how stubborn, And how everything had to be his way. He was fun, but he didn’t know how to be a good friend.
I asked the teacher towards the end of the year, whether I should get my son assessed as I was concerned about some of his quirks. She looked at me, hesitated for a moment, smiled kindly, and said that she thought that might be a good idea. She was thinking high-functioning autism. She was most concerned about his lack of empathy. If I hadn’t asked, she wouldn’t have told me.
I was thinking low-level ADHD with a mild level of anxiety, but I wasn’t really looking for a diagnosis, I was just looking for some answers to the growing list of unknowns and nagging concerns.
This year, we have been involved in the process of getting him assessed by a clinical psychologist. I should have done it sooner.
We did the questionnaires for autism and ADHD, and the scores weren’t clinically sgnificant.
I asked the psychologist to do the Wechsler Intelligence Scale (WISC). Yes, I know all of the pros and cons of intelligence tests, but through the work I do in schools I have also seen them give parents and teachers a really good idea of the child’s strengths and struggles. The psychologist also did the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test.
Well, the tests confirmed why this boy is having such difficulties. During the test the psychologist noted his need to fidget, his lack of attention, and his impaired impulse control. She also noted his little tics and self-comforting behaviours.
The tests revealed that his verbal comprehension is quite low. Aha! That’s why we’ve had to over the years resort to breaking tasks down for him and giving him one instruction at a time, and checking that he has understood the instruction, and checking on him a few minutes later to ensure that he hasn’t been sucked into Lego Land. Yes, this is fairly normal for little kids, but we had two boys before him and they didn’t require the same level of support and intervention. When we’ve done all of this checking with him, he replies with “got it”.
This weakness in verbal comprehension also means that he doesn’t read and learn from social situations easily. The psychologists’ report makes it sound like we have kept him locked in a cupboard under the stairs (a la Harry Potter) for the past 8 years. Actually, he was the most socialised of the three kids, and before he went to school I used to say that he was the only extrovert in a family of introverts.
Every other measure in the psychometric test was average. Except where it comes to Perceptual Reasoning. This kid is in the 97th percentile. He is highly visual and thinks in pictures! Ye Gods! He’s the only kid I didn’t teach Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and he was the one who needed it most. Poor little bugger.
His Word Reading skills are also in the 93rd percentile, and I think that this subtest includes being able to comprehend and interpret what he is reading.
These test results are very interesting. He hated being read to as a little fella seemingly because he couldn’t sit still long enough, but was this because of his reduced capacity in verbal comprehension? It certainly took a huge effort by the wonderful reading recovery teacher (a volunteer, by the way) to get him interested in reading. Due to her efforts, he eventually allowed me to help him with his reading.
He also rarely drew, and still doesn’t. I don’t have many of those ‘first’ pictures of smiley faces and stick figures. Why would a kid’s superior abilities lie within an area he had no inclination towards? Was it that his other difficulties were overriding his planning and organisation for these tasks? I’m fairly certain they have contributed to his anxiety. I have more than a few questions for the psychologist when I see her next.
Because I have had the benefit of a self-funded education, I know that the cognitive load increases in third grade. It is often the year where children who have been flying under the radar come into full view. My boy is now in third grade. Every day he comes home upset because he hasn’t been able to attend to his work, not able to finish it, and has to stay in at recess and lunch to get it done.
I have wondered about Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s not something that I have given much credence to over the years in my work because it’s not in the DSM, the book that psychologists, paediatricians, and psychiatrists use for diagnosing mental disorders. I don’t know. I am an evidence-based practitioner, and SPD is a bit too out there for me. I’ll wait and see what the psychologist has to say about the interventions she thinks will help this boy (I actually already have knowledge of what needs to be put in place, but for once I’m going to be the client rather than the therapist).
So, that’s where we are at the moment with our youngest bloke. This post probably makes him sound terrible. But, of course, he’s not. He’s a little kid with a huge capacity for love, an enormous personality, and a laugh that would power the whole of Monstropolis (Monsters Inc. movie reference).
And he is me. I was a very emotional child. I am a restless and impulsive soul that has trouble settling on any one thing for long. My planning and organisation skills are poor. I think in pictures and I was an advanced reader as a kid. I did my degrees by distance education because reading, instead of sitting and listening, was my preferred study option. I often say that he and I clash because he is relying on me to help him organise the skills that he doesn’t have, but I don’t have those same skills, and we both get overwhelmed. Except I coped at school. My other boys are quirky, but they have done very well at school. Quirky is absolutely OK, but not at the expense of your mental health.
The psychologist asked what he would like for three wishes. He said – for everyone to like him, to be smarter, and to always be able to play.