January 25, 2009

Early Diagnosis

Reading parent blogs, I have been taken aback by how frequently mothers worry that their preschool boy is autistic. I don't want to offend any of you great parents, trying to do what is best for your child. . In all my years around young children(5 brothers, 45 younger cousins, 4 daughters) none were tested for autism as a preschooler. Has autism increased so dramatically or is there now so little tolerance for divergent thinking and unconventional minds? I am desperately uncomfortable wit psychiatric diagnoses for preschoolers. And some of the softer austic symptoms bother me.

I must say I always wondered why I was different, and being told I was a manic depressive at age 7 when my mom worried about my worrying would have been nightmarish. My dad just told me I was smarter than other people and read much more, and I could live with that:) I wouldn't have dared to have my wonderful children if I knew I was mentally ill. Thank God I was diagnosed until the youngest was 4.

If being a scientist happily working all hours in a lab is being a loner, so what? My brother met his wife in the lab, and they are happy loners together. I can't imagine anything on earth could have made Andrew less like my dad, and why would anyone want to try. Another brother who is an elementary school teacher is very dubious about special ed for kids within normal limits. He thinks the stigma is far worse than the extra services justify.What has changed so dramatically that your son is suspected of being autistic now when he wouldn't have been ten years ago? Are there really effective treatments?

People who weren't diagnosed who wish they had been haven't been exposed to the stigma and discrimination and mistreatment that accompany diagnoses. They probably exaggerate the wonderfulness of the special services they didn't receive. We are not an enlightened society; stigma is very real. I would have never gone to social work school at age 46 if I had realized that mental health professionals obviously don't believe in the efficacy of their own treatments.

Loners and losers outgrow it, invent software, have TV shows made about them:) Nerds and geeks are the new prince charmings; they make great husbands. Diagnoses are forever.I wonder if they make chemistry sets for kids Bub's age. I suspect they make microscopes. I recall a kid in Katherine's traditional kindergarten class. The teacher insisted he be tested for developmental disability. He tested at genius level.

With my kids, the educational accommodations they need were not to be insufficiently challenged. The gifted prgram was good in that respect, but their regular public school was totally inadequate. I let my scientist stay home from school so much because she was obviously learning at a higer level than she could reach at school. Special ed kids are not usually recognized as gifted, which Bub so obviously is.

As I told you in my email, I always thought I could do something.. I admit my dad's legacy was intellectual arrogance. I always figured that I could read the same books and journals as the experts, and I knew my weird kids better. Certainly that approach was the key to taming my bipolar order ten years ago. I researched psychiatric journals and the net to find the best possible medication and shopped for a psychiatrist who was willing to prescribe it. My psychiatrist has frequently expressed his gratitude for my educating him. That medication, lamictal, is the one he uses most successfully for his bipolar patients. I needed a psychiatrist who was a partner, who would discuss journal articles with me as a peer, who was as willing to learn from me as I was from him, who would admit when he didn't know and when he was wrong. Only then would I feel comfortable enough to be fully honest with him about my medication.

Using what you learn from blogs, books, and journals about autism is brilliant. I am sure they would have helped me cope with my dad, two brothers, two husbands, and two nephews:) I am very curious to read them; I love to think about how different minds work. Learning all you can is different than a formal diagnosis that might convey to a child, his teachers, his peers that there is something wrong with him even though different, original minds can't and shouldn't be fixed. _

_Do read For Her Own Good: 200 Years of Experts Advice to Women, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English. Thank God I first read it when it only covered 150 years in 1979, the year after my writer was born. Thank God I never consulted experts about her. Some minds are too mysterious to be meddled with. She probably would have qualified for bipolar disorder, autism, and social anxiety disorder, with a subtle oppositional defiant disorder. __The label "autistic" might be less frightening to your generation, but in 62 years I have never personally known a child so labeled. I have known many children who could have been so labeled, but they found their ideal career niche and the spouse who can translate for them. The more I read about it, the more I suspect it explains so much about men:)__Bub is lucky to have the best mother in the world for him. I would hate to see any specialist shake your confidence in that. I apologize for being so strident and tiresome , and I will shut up and save this for private emal and my blogl. Yesterday I wrote a post on "Experts," Testing, and Misdiagnosis. I might be overly influenced by my experience that being open about my bipolar disorder wasted all the money I spent on my MSW in social work.

Normal Children

I have been very disturbed by the epidemic of bipolar diagnoses imposed on children. I myself have struggled with bipolar disorder for twenty years, and I know the crushing stigma such a dire diagnosis imposes. Until about ten years ago, psychiatrists believed the bipolar diagnosis was inappropriate before late adolescence.

By any parental standards, my four daughters have turned out wonderfully. Such a happy ending was not predictable during their childhood and teen years.I teased them about it recently. Certainly, I worried at least three of them were bipolar, if not spawns of Satan, when they were younger.

Here were some diagnostic indicators. Obviously not all applied to all four daughters.

  • They wouldn't pick up their toys. I have stepped on 20,000 lego pieces in the dark.

  • They once decorated their bedrooms with a mixture of desitin and baby powder.
    They were chronically late. No one could get off to school in the morning without substantial maternal help, usually involving driving.
    Bedtime was a joke. A friend said you could call our house at any time of the night; someone would be sure to be awake and delighted to talk to you about your problems.
  • They told their mommy "fuck you" with not an ounce of guilt or remorse The major culprit, when asked why she was acting like a devil child at age five, explained "Mommy, I used all my goodness up in school." Now she is using her goodness working for international peace.
    The Writer absolutely refused to do the assigned kindergarten homework, writing sentences using a list of words. "Writers don't use other people's words."
    They almost never lost a power battle with their doormat mommy. My oldest, the Adventurer, should have been born with a printout, "You will win exactly five battles with this child. Choose them carefully." I did win the important battles, but I only learned their importance by losing most of the rest.
    The Writer had meltdowns because the new washing machine wasn't blue; the pretty blue rental car had vanished; her aunt and uncle didn't have a second child her age; she was not attending a school that closed three years previously; there wasn't enough snow; election day would be a day before her 18th birthday three years from now. Her tantrums were reserved for the existential order of the universe.
  • They only ran fevers, thereby missing school, on the three school days without the gifted program pullout. I conducted ad hoc home schooling for bored students who missed an astonishing amount of school.
  • The Adventurer only pulled the hair and dumped sand over the heads of playmates whose mommies would reliably go round the twist (Anne has traveled to over 65 countries, and has lived in Niger, Rwanda and Kosovo.)She ended her three-year sand eating on the day our doctor looks her in the eye and assured me that her sand-eating diet must account for her excellent health. For old-times sake, she would occasionally revert to the diet when babysat by a hysteric mommy.
  • At age 2 Michelle magic marked a $2000 painting. To be fair, the culprit was only two and the artist was able to fix the picture.
  • The same culprit at age two also destroyed another family's audiotapes of their kids when babies and toddlers.
I questioned my sanity again and again throughout their childhoods. But I am very proud that I could cherish their intelligence, creativity, and individuality and was never tempted to drug their uniqueness, no matter how it disrupted our lives. They claim that are going emphasize order more and creativity less with their own kids:)I foresee much amusement watching them try.