My concern for Captain Underpants has clouded my every waking moment - and most of my sleeping ones (not that there's been much of that). Friends have been eager to reassure me that Captain Underpants is a wonderful little boy, who is just under a hell of a lot of emotional strain. And it's true, that is undeniably the case.
But then again, so is his brother. Yet his coping skills - at even 2 years his junior - are far more honed. Now I know Johnny Drama is a whole different kettle of fish and should not be used as a benchmark where Captain Underpants is concerned. They are as different as chalk and cheese. But I am still - as their mother - beginning to appreciate that personality differences might not be the only explanation as to why one is struggling and the other isn't.
I happened to mention my concerns to the guy I work with and it turns out that he is a specialist social worker trained to work with children, many of whom have 'special needs'. (I still can't help but grit my teeth where that terminology is concerned...I know it's wrong, but it just holds such negative connatations for me.) After I described the situation in brief he very calmly confirmed that there are definite indicators, irrespective of our personal family situation - yet this is not to be perceived as a bad thing. We talked about it in much more depth and he advised me to go and talk to the school's SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinating Officer) to get their opinion.
I then talked to Mr eHarmony, as we hadn't touched base for a while. Being a woman with blabbermouth tendencies I mentioned to him the issues I was going through with my eldest - and he revealed that he had gone through similar circumstances with his eldest son several years before (his son is now 14). He had a wealth of information and contacts, should I need it, and would be more than happy to help in any way that he could.
Another couple of friends read my blog and reached out via email, revealing their own journeys along this path (which I hadn't been aware of). One of them suggested I look into Sensory Processing Disorder, a relatively new 'syndrome' aligned with autism/Aspergers, but not. I checked out a website online (www.sensory-processing-disorder.com) and, just for the sheer hell of it, had a little looksee at their all-encompassing checklist, making a note of traits that struck a chord. Once I had a page full of notes - over 30 characteristics (and this was without writing everything down that rung true for CU) - I stopped.
And just started to sob.
The picture through that particular looking glass was overwhelmingly clear. I felt terrified at what I was potentially getting us - and particularly him - into, but also the most incredible relief that I possibly wasn't going mad. My biggest fear is that I am being a dramatic, neurotic mother, dragging her poor innocent son into the great unknown, for no reason at all other than sheer desperation, and to detract from the almighty mess that is his family life. To have a sense that this isn't necessarily the case and that there is evidence to back up my concerns, was reassuring to say the least. Maybe not mad. That was a thought worth hanging on to.
Here is a small sampler of the things that rang true to me:
- Incredibly sensitive, colicky baby with sleep issues and who couldn't be comforted by touch/being held
- Never crawled. Walked very late (could be a premature indicator) and walked on his toes. Hated new sensations - walking on sand / grass / different textures
- Talked late - and didn't have a tendency to babble.
- Drooled excessively for first 3 years of life and still soaks his pillow/bed sheets every night. Sucks fingers / clothing as a comfort mechanism, but was never soothed by sucking a dummy/thumb as a baby
- Overly sensitive to changes in routine, even now
- Is often overwhelmed by group situations and will withdraw - even on a play date he has requested - to play quietly on his own in a corner
- Completely freaks out about his toe nails being cut. We have recently turned a corner with his finger nails, but this is still something that needs to be negotiated way ahead of time for him to be comfortable with it and to not disintegrate into a nervous wreck.
- Has an absolute panic attack if he is spun or is threatened to be held upside down
- Can't stand loud noises - says it feels as if his ear drums are about to explode if he hears something unexpected. The very thought of attending firework night practically brings him out in hives.
- When in an active social group he either stand on the sidelines and keeps with the adults, away from all the commotion, or he enters the fray with abandon and is far more excessive than his friends. He talks VERY loudly and will not stop. There is no volume control. He can easily become hyper, which is very out of character for such a sweet, passive boy.
- He can't sit still at meal times and constantly moves in, out and around his chair.
- He can't stand his hair being brushed - even with the softest bristles - and as for hair cuts...well, you can imagine.
- Sits/stands inches away from the television and, given the option, would always dictate that the volume is at least 10,000 decibels or more.
- When excited or overstimulated he will repetitively screech at the top of his voice, like a large bird being violently castrated.
- Shakes and moves his hands rapidly and repeatedly in anticipation of something good happening
- Moves from placid to aggressive in a split second - over reacting to the simplest of provocations, sometimes with violence (his current preference is to choke / attempt to throttle whoever is upsetting him - most typically his brother who has an annoyance factor of at least 1000%)
- In comparison to his friends, has poorly developed gross and fine motor skills