When I’m never sure where to start with a story, I always default to the beginning, and the beginning of this story is about 12 years ago when Alex was just a toddler.
He was a beautiful happy, laughing baby, but the terrible two’s were off the chain. I mean, I wasn’t a newbie parent. I’d run this road before with Tom, but Alexander was a whole different ballgame. His tantrums were epic; like head spinning, possessed by a demon, epic. John and I didn’t know what to do, so we just kept on keeping on and waited out the terrible two’s and then we all know that the three’s are way worse than the two’s, and I just kept on praying for him to turn four and grow out of it.
But he didn’t. Four rolled around, and he was still hell on wheels. I remember buckling him into his car seat, and he’s kicking like a mule and screaming and closing the door on the sound (the old Chrysler Pacifica had fantastic soundproofing) and leaning up against the door wondering what I had done wrong whilst the muted sounds of his screams and the rocking of the car continued unabated.
I spent time researching and trying to figure out what we could do. I read all the books on how to help my ‘strong-willed child,’ but what I didn’t know then was what we really needed was a diagnosis. He is such a smart child and had a miserable time of it in Kindergarten because he was extremely bored. We had him assessed, and in First Grade he went into an all gifted class and was back to being the animated and excited child we knew he could be. He had no troubles at all in school, which on the one hand was fabulous, but on the other left us wondering what we were doing wrong. It wasn’t until he was around nine years old that we got the diagnosis that started to change everything for the better.
A change of scenery and a diagnosis…
We had moved to Maryland, and Alexander was back in a regular classroom and sadly back to being bored at school again. He was doing okay but was definitely not as happy as he had been at his old school. Then, at Christmas, a child in his grade passed from cancer. Alex did not know him, but the stories the school told the children in their counseling triggered something in him. He developed an extreme case of separation anxiety and panic whenever we went to school. He would scream and kick and cry all the while we were trying to walk him into the school. It was heartbreaking and horrifying, and we finally sought the help of a psychiatrist. It was here he was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
The Anxiety made sense based on his current behaviors, but OCD? I mean, that was washing hands all the time, right? Well, that’s part of it, but only a small part with Alex. He had started opening doors with his T-Shirt rather than his hands, and he did wash his hands all the time, but nothing excessive like you imagine when people talk of OCD. The thing about OCD that most people don’t understand is that it’s primarily an inflexibility of thought. Your brain makes a decision and changing it is incredibly hard, if not impossible.
He did fine in school in Florida because he knew the structure of every day and the rules were quite strict and disciplined and that worked wonderfully with Alex. People didn’t follow the rules, and they got into trouble. Exactly how it should be. When we moved to DC, the school wasn’t as strict, and they would tell the children that they weren’t allowed to do something, but then not reprimand them when they ignored the rules. Alex didn’t deal well with this. Added to this, his brain had told him that if he went to school something terrible would happen to me, so he would fall into an extreme panic whenever we went to school, and he couldn’t shut it down. We did eventually, but it took time and patience and a lot of tears.
The most significant change to our family though was learning that all of Alex’s outbursts and tantrums were due to unexpected changes in his routine. What I had put down to him being strong-willed and uncooperative, was Alexander freaking out because we were mixing up his schedule. I would tell him to get his shoes on because we were going to the store, and an epic meltdown would ensue. After an education into how Alex’s brain functioned, a simple modification changed everything. Whenever we knew something was coming up or if I thought I might have to go somewhere, I would give him a heads up. Example: “Hey, Alex. This weekend we are going grocery shopping tomorrow at some point and then we might be heading over to X’s house either on Saturday Night or Sunday”. It was ridiculously simple, but life-changing. I’d give him another hour warning when it was actually happening so he could mentally prepare himself for the change, and he’d, for the most part, come along begrudgingly (I mean, he’s still a kid! What kid wants to grocery shop!?), but calm.
It’s okay to ask for help…
There is more to this story, but this is a good stopping point for now. He wasn’t suddenly the perfect child, and we still had lots to learn in ways that we could help Alex work through and work with his OCD, but that’s another story. My reason for posting this is that if your child is acting out and seems to be more extreme than most, don’t struggle through on your own. There is help out there and perhaps even a diagnosis that can bring some answers and support your way. You don’t lose parent points for asking for help!