I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t always nice when I was a kid. When I was a little girl, I bit my best friend’s arm, and I once convinced her to eat cat food. I pressured my cousin to ride carnival rides at the State Fair and then mocked him and called him a “sissy” when he threw up. Also, I popped a kid at daycare who tried to take my General Lee Hot Wheels away from me. These weren’t awesome behaviors, but I grew out of them. I’m a reasonably sane adult free of significant moral depravity or antisocial behaviors.
I also had fears. Mostly, I was terrified of Jesus. The Jesus presented to me was not the mild-mannered tree-hugging Jesus that some like to think of now. He was a golden-eyed, fire-breathing, blood-soaked god of vengeance, and I was always afraid that he was coming back to get me. I also had night terrors after a kid at my daycare told me that her grandfather had seen an evil leprechaun in his bedroom, and he had to read the Bible to the stumpy little Irishman to make it go away. So I became terrified that a leprechaun was going to appear in my room and do—well, whatever it is that horrific, scary leprechauns do. Despite these fears, I think I turned out okay.
Last week, my son told the caregivers at his preschool that he had monsters in his room at home. I’ve always thought that the fear of monsters was a pretty typical fear that kids face as they start to realize that the world isn’t filled with unicorns and happiness. To make him feel better, my husband and I checked his room out for him and told him we didn’t see any monsters. When my son woke up in the night, we let him sleep in our room. The whole monster thing lasted about a week until my son informed me that he was “all better.”
My son’s daycare then invited me to a meeting to discuss ways to help my son “socialize” better in his class. The next thing I knew, the “early childhood consultant” that had been brought into the meeting started saying that she saw autism-spectrum signs in my son. My older son has PDD-NOS, so our family has made the rounds of speech therapy, occupational therapy and other support services. We recognize autism-like behaviors. My youngest son is blessedly normal. He speaks in complete sentences, has empathy, engages in pretend play—all of the things that my oldest didn’t do. He doesn’t stare at fans or talk obsessively about crosswalk signs. He’s just a typically developing boy.
I then discovered that this “early childhood consultant” works for a clinic in my area that assists at-risk kids. She’s with a program affiliated with the Department of Children and Families that is designed to prevent expulsions from preschool, and she wanted to do a home observation of my son. I looked at my son’s teacher and said, “Jesus Christ, are we at that point?” She said “no,” but I was still handed a stack of papers including HIPAA release forms and asked to schedule a visit with the DCF lady. Long story short, I found out that participation in the program is voluntary. We declined to participate.
I’m not sure when normal kid behavior started to be interpreted as either autism or as a social/emotional disorder. From experience, I know those disorders are real, and they present extraordinary challenges for parents whose kids actually have them. Yet even typically developing kids exhibit some behaviors that are distinctively not awesome. If they’re addressed with consistency, kids usually grow out of them and make better choices later. And fear, if acknowledged and soothed by loving parents, usually fades away.
Today, I am on good terms with my childhood best friend and with my cousin, despite my unkind behaviors. I do have to say, though, that I don’t regret popping that kid who took my General Lee. As far as I’m concerned, he had it coming.