Saturday, January 15, 2011

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

My oldest son is smart, funny, social, engaged and doing well in school. I also have a sneaking suspicion that something is going on with him, that he has some sort of "issue."

I don't know what I think it is. I've considered anxiety, an intolerance for frustration, executive function issues, a learning disability that is just starting to rear its head and also the possibility that he is a completely typical nine-year-old who is just kind of a jerk every once in a while.

Because my middle child has autism, I have learned a lot about these different ways of being. Often when I am reading, I will discover something that fits my oldest to a tee. I have spent a good deal of time in the past couple of years wondering if I should intervene somehow.

I also understand that med students are hypochondriacs and that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but every time I start to question myself on the fact that something is going on, I think back to a panel discussion I sat in on about a year ago.

At that conference, a man whose whole business is providing evaluations spoke about his experience with taking a harder look at kids like my oldest. He said that although school districts tend to dismiss parents of students like mine, the parents' instincts are usually on target.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire," he said.

It has taken a long time for my husband and I to get to the point where we were ready to have an evaluation done on my oldest son, but we are finally there. We decided to go the private route for his evaluation. Never for a second did I think that the school would do anything other than laugh if I told them I thought he needed to be evaluated. His teachers see him as a model student—and he is.

But that kid has some explosions at home that seem far outside the realm of reasonable. Then again, I've never had a nine-year-old before, so maybe they are perfectly reasonable. (See how I second guess myself?)

We finally talked to a psychologist and I listed every reason why I thought he needed to be evaluated. The psychologist, my husband and I agreed to have my son evaluated. We scheduled the appointments and left for a month, while we waited for evaluation week to roll around. 

During that month, my son has been an angel. He has been delightful, helpful and not had any blow ups. I started to not just doubt that there was fire, but that there was smoke at all.

Then a couple days before his first appointment, I told him that he was going to miss half a day of school to go to the evaluation. That kid panicked. He started screaming. He started to list all of the things he was going to miss and how that was unacceptable. He tried to bargain into another option, and then he ran out of the room sobbing.


We are mid-evaluation now and I am very interested to see the results. I figure that the best case scenario is that we waste a ton of money and have a paper that says, "Your son is perfectly typical," that I can look at whenever I have doubts. The worst case scenario is that we discover that something is going on with him and we figure out how to help him deal with it now rather than when he is 30. That doesn't even sound like that much of a worst case. I think the real worst case would be leaving him with an issue that never got discussed or diagnosed.

I have spent so much time doubting myself and questioning whether something is going on with my son. I am so glad that phase is over. I feel peace now that we are taking action to find some answers.


Stimey writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey. She believes rodents are funny, autism may be different than you think, and that if you have a choice between laughing and crying, you should always try to laugh—although sometimes you may have to do both.


  1. Thanks for writing this. I have a "typical" (I hate that term) 5 year old that some times I am convinced has some kind of an issue. We have had him evaluated and got nothing, but still, my doubts linger. The when there is smoke there is fire line rings true.

  2. Thank you for Posting this! My Husband and I are currently in the midst of discussions as to whether we should have our 2 "Typical" ( I Hate that term) Daughters evaluated. Our son who is also the middle child has autism, and though I sometimes wonder if maybe I am just making mountains out of molehills, there is definitely smoke. Thing is with our oldest, like you said about your son, her teachers think she is a model student.....solid A-B average since kindergarten, but she is heading to high school next year. I worry that diagnosing her might give her a label that could make high school harder...but the alternative is to do nothing, and then what? what if she struggles socially all the way through high school, and emotions spiral downhill uncontrollably?

  3. Yeah, well it has been my experience that when you've got autism in one child in the family, the other kids are going to be at least a little bit quirky, not 100% typical. it's the gene pool, babe. And the parents? Let's just say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Where neurological oddness manifests in a child it always exists up, down and across the family tree, just appears in other ways. There are decidedly "odd" "quirky" "neurotic" family members all the hell over the place.
    We are still trying to figure out if Ethan, Jacob's "typical" brother, actually has ADD or an anxiety disorder -- or (should we be so lucky) - BOTH! So far his academics are fine, but he gets so overwrought so easily and he has tremendous trouble with impulse control. Also he's starting to manifest self-esteem issues, par for the course with ADD, as they see others not struggling to control themselves all the time and think they are not good enough. Planning a formal eval in the spring.
    Big sigh.
    You are an experienced, informed and wise parent. Obviously trust your instincts, and I hope you get answers, soon.

  4. I hope you get some good answers about what is going on with him. I think it's great that you are doing everything you can while he is still young. Even if he doesn't end up with a clinical diagnosis, I'm sure the psychologist can give you some good insights into how to help him deal with things.

  5. And don'f forget, the experts offer opinions, and opinions are not always correct. I mention this because in my expericne it is so hard to ask for help and then sometimes the help is not right--one needs to constantly evaluate. You are kind, caring and informed parents. Best of luck!

  6. You know, here's the rub about the mental health field: I think our society has sompatholgized mental health and developmental issues that we second guess ourselves just for asking for help. Your son may or may not have a clinically diagnosable issue as defined in the DSM. It doesn't matter; as long as his behaviors and struggles create problems in any area of his life, it is wise to seek counsel to help him learn different ways of coping. No matter what the evaluation comes up with, don't stop trusting your gut and seeking support or answers. I know you...and *I* trust your instincts. xo

  7. Just like the speech therapists kept telling us Andy's speech is fine... fine... fine... Oops! He's delayed. If you think it isn't right, and you don't know what to do to help, ask for help. It only makes sense. And keep asking until you get some.

  8. I think we're leading parallel lives. My 8 yr old son sounds just like your 9 yr old. Model student, great kid...the counselor at school told me she couldn't meet with him about his emotional issues/sadness/social awkwardness/perfectionism because it isn't affecting him at school. I've never said this out loud (or in print) but I suspect Asperger's and it's just coming out now. Or maybe it's just being 8. Maybe I know too much, like you said. I'm starting him with a private counselor to talk in a safe place about things at home, and hoping that I'll get some direction from that.
    I'll be looking to you to see where you go from here. You are so in tune with your kids. Trusting your gut seems like just the thing to do.

  9. These are all great comments! I don't have anything to add, except that you've got a pretty good track record of noticing issues that need to be addressed, and I think it's awesome how on top of things you are.