My son, Kevin, was always difficult and ornery. I used to say he was a demon infant sent from the depths of hell to destroy me. Even asleep, Kevin was pissed. However, his kindergarten year was when things really went to shit. Any time you said no, or turned left when he wanted to go right, or changed his routine in any way, and especially when you didn’t understand what he was trying to say, Kevin threw violent temper tantrums. He attacked the dog, broke my things and bit us, hard. When all that didn’t get him what he wanted he’d pull down his pants and piss on the walls. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, he started doing all of this at school.
Though he was trashing the classroom daily and hitting his teachers, the school was very supportive. They hired a behaviorist to work with him in the classroom and design a comprehensive behavior management plan... and things got worse. I hired my own behaviorist who trained us in restraint and designed an in-home behavior plan... and things got worse. Despite our best effort (and we were all trying so hard) Kevin was unresponsive to every specialist we hired and every type of therapy we attempted.
One of the worst days of my life was when I showed up at school and they were in “crisis mode." I assumed it was just a drill but the school psychologist saw me through the window and brought me in to the office to tell me Kevin had attacked a fellow classmate. As we spoke, Kevin was “safely restrained” in the classroom they had evacuated to protect the other children. As I sat there listening I felt bile rise in my throat. “It’s over,” I thought. “He’ll be transferred to a private school for the emotionally disturbed and the rest of my life is going to be just like this. Heartbreak, humiliation, and fear will be the cornerstones of my existence from this point forward and nothing is ever going to get better.”
I wish I could tell you that was the only time this happened but I can’t. New Jersey state law says the school must contact a parent immediately if their child is forcibly restrained due to aggressive outburst. My phone rang most days, sometimes twice a day. I found myself losing a large amount of weight in a short time. For months I lived in a constant state of unending anxiety, waiting for that phone to call, waiting to hear who he had harmed or what he had destroyed.
So how am I sitting here claiming to live in the land of acceptance? Well, my husband and I swore we’d never medicate him but by January, when he hadn’t made a stitch of progress, we knew we owed it to Kevin to try. If he kept hurting everyone at school what choice would they have but to send him away? We found a pediatric neurologist who prescribed a low-dose anti-depressant. Kevin finally started responding to therapy.
Eventually we learned that he had special needs that related to his outbursts. We became a team: The doctor, the two behaviorists, his saint of a teacher, and the administration. We worked together, formulated a new plan together, succeeded, failed, cried, and laughed together for 6 months and by the end of kindergarten Kevin’s behavior had improved tremendously. We weren’t out of the woods, but I had started to hope and dream and sleep and eat again.
Things have gotten a little better every year since then. We still have bad days, but nothing compared to what we were facing 5 years ago. I know a lot of women whose children struggle with oppositional, aggressive behavior. There is no quick fix. You must be determined, hopeful and open minded regarding options you were previously unwilling to consider. Once upon a time, when he got angry enough, Kevin would hit, bite, kick and urinate on me. Nowadays, he never really gets that angry but when he does, he puts me in the time out chair and calls me a Poopface. Now if that’s not progress I don’t know what is.
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