Near the end of a spectacular school year in which she moved from reading not at all to reading at a first grade level; from having no friends, to being among the most popular girls in her class; from simple arithmetic to two column subtraction with regrouping, Sweet M is having a series of setbacks.
It started a couple of weeks ago, when she had a meltdown at school during the diversity day assembly and her father had to go and pick her up. There have been intermittent meltdowns two and three times each week since.
After the first couple of meltdowns, her psychiatrist and I hypothesized that her Paxil dose might be too high. We reasoned that since I have a strong response to the increased sunlight in the spring, that she might be having a similar problem. So we decided to try to take her dose down just a little -- reducing it by 5 mg.
It seems that this wasn't the right move. My intuition was wrong.
On Wednesday her class went on a field trip to the Central Park Zoo. When the zoo's childhood educator was asking her group questions, she had to be the one to answer. When she was required to let other children answer, she flipped out.
Since I wasn't there I don't know exactly what happened, but it took three adults to restrain her and she was kicking and screaming at the top of her lungs, "Help me help me they're hurting me, please get the police, someone please get the police."
When a child is screaming "help me, they're hurting me, get the police" in the middle of Central Park, that's what people do: they get the police. Or in this case, they got park security. The teachers found themselves in the horrible situation of having to explain that they weren't abusing Sweet M.
Of course her teachers had already called us to come and get her, interrupting me during a conference call about the contract that seems to never quite come through, but that is another story. Sweet M's father raced by cab to pick her up, but there was incredible traffic in midtown, so it took nearly 45 minutes for him to get there. Meanwhile they had to call me back several times and I could hear Sweet M screaming and wailing and screaming, "I wanna answer the question, I wanna answer the question."
By phone her teacher and I strategized about how to get her in the cab when her father finally made it through the traffic. While one doesn't want to reward meltdowns, there had to be something at the end of the cab ride to make it worth coming home.
I decided to promise that we'd go to the pet store and find her a pet. She's been wanting a pet. Her teacher said, "Wow, that would work. You're pulling out the stops." We thought this was a great idea, so she put Sweet M on the phone.
I told her that when her father brought her home that she and I would go to the pet store and pick out a pet.
She started screaming at the top of her lungs, even louder than before, "No no no — no pet — I wanna answer the question."
And what was the question?
The question was "What can you get in a rain forest?"
Sweet M's answer — the answer that she was desperate to share — was "chocolate."
She knows that chocolate comes from the rain forest because of our field trip to Hershey, where we'd seen a film about cacao harvesting, and bought a book for her class about what comes from the rainforest. Chocolate and cacao is her special area of expertise, and someone else answered with her answer: chocolate.
Her father arrived, and she was still hysterical, desperate to get back into the group, back into her partner, back into the rain forest exhibition.
So he took her in. Apparently once she was inside, she was crying, and then she screamed out the word "chocolate" — answered the question — and then said she wanted to go home.
My question: What hurts?
Not knowing what to do for your child hurts.
Keywords: autism • Asperger's Syndrome • ADHD • learning disabilities • special education • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) • parenting • family life