My seven-year-old son, Mattias is amazing. I know, everyone thinks their kid is special, but Mattias baffles most adults he meets. He’s been going through a lot of tests over the last nine months because of some behavioral and emotional challenges he deals with, and there really is no consensus about his issues.
Most experts seem to think he’s a “textbook aspie,” which is shorthand for Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is at the high end of the autism spectrum, though even that is debated by doctors, educators and everyone else with a degree and an opinion. Others suggest he’s dealing with an obsessive personality type, which apparently is different than obsessive-compulsive disorder, though I’m still not completely sure how. And still others have determined that he has an anxiety disorder, ADHD, or some combination of both.
I should point out that far from all of his unique qualities are liabilities. When they tested his language skills, he topped out the test. They said he had tested higher than anyone they had ever tested at the clinic, of any age. He started reading Harry Potter books on his own when he was five. He has perfect pitch, and has been able to pick notes out of a melody or set of chords since he was three. He listens to classical music in his sleep, and then can wake up the next morning and pick out tunes he heard overnight on his ukulele.
But such brilliance doesn’t come without its own set of challenges. It’s hard being different, no matter what.
We don’t personally care too much about the labels, as long as he gets the help he needs. But labels are really important for the school district, insurance and other folks who are giving him help. So we play along, if sometimes grudgingly so. Part of the recommendation was that he meet with a psychiatrist, which is like a psychologist with a prescription pad. Their proposed solutions to emotional or psychological issues tend to involve drugs.
“If that medicine gives me diarrhea,” he said, “I’m not taking it. forget it.”
But we’re not sure we want him taking anything. It’s not that I have something against medical intervention when done properly. Hell, I’ve been on my own share of drugs a good part of my adult life. There’s a difference, though, when you’re talking about using drugs to modify the behavior of a kid who still doesn’t entirely know who he is yet.
Yes, there might be drugs that could help him deal with anxiety better, and they might help him make friends more easily too. We have to consider all of that, of course, but I also am painfully aware of the possibility that he will start incorporating the drugs into part of who he thinks he is as a person. It’s one thing to decide as a grown man that you could use the support of medication for depression; it’s entirely another to have your parents decide for you.
It’s a harder road, but for now, we’re staying focused on the more tedious, day-to-day grind of counseling, proactive hands-on parenting and firm boundaries. Sometimes it makes our life hell, especially when he launches into one of his forty-five-minute tantrums, or when he gets so fixated on a single idea that it dominates his entire day. But I think we owe him that much.
I won’t say we’ll never resort to medical intervention for Mattias, but I see God in this little person. I catch a glimpse of the entirety of creation’s chaos, magnitude, brilliance and fury, all in the inexplicable quirks of my son. For today, I think I can manage. And who knows? He might even teach me a few things about who I am in the process.