I have been know to watch reruns of Degrassi. On purpose. I’m not proud. I could tell you it’s because I used to watch the original show way back in the day, but I really don’t know if that’s any justification. And now Chickadee is old enough to watch it (sometimes), though as a whole the show is considerably more sexed up than I remember it being when I was younger.
Really, I think Degrassi reminds me of all of the teen drama shows I loved in my youth (90210, for example) crossed with those after school specials I never could stop watching. There’s drama! And suspense! And kissing! And often a Very Special Message.
So one day I was watching Degrassi while I pedaled my elliptical, and Chickadee wandered in, and we watched as this one “quirky” student became progressively more agitated over a variety of things, culminating in a dramatic teen tantrum.
“This totally reminds me of Monkey,” Chickadee said, as the boy threw things on the floor and yelled.
It turned out to be one of those Very Special Episodes, the one in which Connor is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
I’ve mentioned that Monkey is having a hard time this year. I’ve tried to resist dwelling on it, or obsessing over it through writing about it constantly. I’ve been mindful of the what-ifs and worried about my son’s privacy, and the sordid details of the last three extremely long months aren’t ones that need sharing.
But it’s been hard. Awful. My nine-year-old coming home from school and telling me he wished he was dead kind of awful. Really, really awful. I assume the school has us on speed dial, and as wonderful as his teachers are, I can only assume they feel a familiar dread every time I send them an email.
“He is like Monkey,” I told Chickadee. “Or, Monkey is like him. Monkey probably has Asperger’s, too. We’re looking into it.” Her eyes widened and she had a lot of questions. Did he know? What would that mean? Is it something we can fix?
I struggled with the answers: Monkey knows he’s unhappy and that he’s struggling, and he knows he’s going through some testing so that we can help him more. It would mean some things wouldn’t change but others would; it would mean maybe he could get some more help at school so that he won’t always feel like everything is so hard for him. It’s not something you fix, it’s something you manage.
She nodded. She was kinder to him, I think.
It’s not as though we didn’t know. We know Monkey talks like a wizened little professor, which frankly I have always found charming. We know he is rigid in his thinking and particularly intolerant of change. We know that thanks to his Sensory Integration Disorder issues he’s easily overloaded by too much stimulation, even when “too much stimulation” for him is absolutely no big deal for anyone else. And we know that he has issues socially.
But this year has been its own beast. Over the summer, Monkey’s pals grew and matured and the nuances of their social interactions became more refined, while Monkey… stayed the same. The stress of changing schools and being in a giant class proved more than he could deal with in reasonable ways, right at the same time that his peers have finally noticed: He is different. He doesn’t get it. And so he has struck out, shut down, flailed around, and been miserable.
He has refused to do work. He has done work and never turned it in. He’s taking zeros on assignments he could complete in five minutes if only he’d TRY. Or, that’s what we thought, anyway. That he wasn’t trying.
It turns out that he has been trying. He’s been trying so hard, and feeling like it doesn’t matter. Feeling like he doesn’t matter.
Things are better now, actually, than they were in the beginning. But they’re not okay. He’s not okay, yet. We’re getting there, though.
One night at dinner, Monkey said something particularly weird, even for him. I can’t even remember what it was, now. And Chickadee leaned over to me and said, “So is that… you know… is that sort of thing because he maybe has Asperger’s?”
Monkey’s whole face changed. He looked horrified. And although we’d talked about the various testing he was doing at school, although we’d explained to him that his brain seems to work a little differently and we’re trying to understand how to best help him, I’d not used the word Asperger’s with him, not yet. And I didn’t know what sort of explosion was coming, now.
“WHY,” he finally sputtered, “would I have burgers IN MY ASS??”
No, my children are not allowed to use the word ass.
Yes, we laughed until we cried. All of us.
That was the night I explained to him what Asperger’s is, that it’s a collection of characteristics that are neither bad nor wrong, but which may make things harder for individuals who have it. “Like me,” he said, as he listened, “that sounds a lot like what I do.” He looked down at his lap, morose. “I don’t mean to.”
I hugged him tight and assured him that he was a 100% perfect Monkey and we still didn’t even know if this was what’s going on, but that whether it is or it isn’t, our goal is to help him be HIM, happy and whole, and it would all be okay. School would be okay. He would be okay. We would find a way to make it okay.
So it’s not okay, not yet, but the testing is done and the school says yes, he appears to have Asperger’s. Nothing is different today than it was yesterday, except that now he qualifies for an IEP and that may mean we can get him some more help.
I know that labeling your child is a very charged issue. I’ve been cautioned against taking this route by more than one person. And at the end of the day, I don’t look at my kid and see a label… I see my child. My funny, quirky, charming, loving child. Do I want him to have a label that maybe some people will never see past? Not really. But I want him to get the help he needs more than I want to avoid some potential embarrassment down the road over something that shouldn’t be embarrassing.
Monkey can take the label. It’s only one little part of him. He has Asperger’s. He’s also the most handsomest, the very best Monkey I know, positively bionic, and my one and only little Yoda. And he’s going to be okay.