What a child screaming in frustration sounds like...behavior problem.

My son is amazing.  For the last 8 months (ending 8 weeks ago), he was expressing extreme frustration at school and no one understood what was the cause.  Looking back, he was feeling like in spite of doing what his parents and teachers suggested, he was failing at writing.  And he was really trying. It must have been awful for him.

We subjected him to a barrage of occupational therapy, academic and cognitive testing which he endured with a great attitude. We sent his au pair to school with him as an aide and scribe. His au pair also sensitized him to his own disruptive behaviors.  The OT determined he needed some fine motor adjustments which we started immediately.  In his very first session, he was like a sponge – grabbing on to the modifications his therapist suggested.  A slant board. Well lined paper.

Within two weeks, he started doing his own writing, by choice.  Still not very neat – but not frustrating either.  For months, he had been frustrated because he was trying to fix himself and failing.  No one – his parents or teachers – was helping him or explaining to him why all his efforts (and he was working hard) were failing. It was excruciatingly frustrating – he doesn’t give up and he knew he wasn’t succeeding.  But once he saw the path – he ran for it and never looked back.

Would you believe that from the day the au pair arrived in school, my son completely stopped having behavior issues? 

It took longer to get the results from the academic and cognitive testing – and even longer to synthesize those results into something that fit my son. It’s easy to fall into a diagnosis with the justification that it would give everyone a common language – but that was never our goal.  Our goal was to figure out what was making our son crazy at school but happy at home and with his friends. 

We learned that he’s exceptionally bright and that his brain processes information exceptionally quickly.  Meaning that he’s easily bored and needs a lot of challenge. We learned that in contrast to all that, his auditory processing abilities are below average – meaning that he actually cannot process auditory inputs very well. This means that when you give him spoken instruction, he’s not getting all of it. And he’s working double time to get what he gets.  He needs instruction and information provided in writing.  Not surprisingly, so does his Dad.  His Dad graduated with honors from Harvard and didn’t go to his lectures because he got what he needed from the books. But he knows he likely could have gotten even more if he dealt with his auditory processing challenges. So we’ll help our son with that issue to see if we can help him get more out of spoken instruction. 

To top it off, when he’s frustrated or bored, he’s impulsive and energetic. It’s not a reaction he’s choosing – it’s his wiring.   For years we’ve joked that he doesn’t idle well – we were right.

But the amazing thing is that he took advantage of the information from his au pair and his OT to self-adapt. Once he realized that he can keep himself busy with a book or an art project AND that he enjoys being in class reading, writing and participating – it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. He’s articulating when he needs to go burn some energy or needs something else to do. And his class is doing a lot more project work and he’s loving it.

Looking back, I think we should have done the OT testing in second grade as soon as we knew his handwriting was a problem.

More importantly, it took a psychologist who deeply considered the academic, cognitive and behavior data all together (and had unlimited observation of my son, to be fair) to discern the true root cause of his frustration - and the reason that his frustration was manifesting in disruption.  My suggestion to anyone going through this is to keep pushing until you get an answer that makes sense - do not let yourself be intimidated by professionals (pscyhological or educational) into accepting a description that simply doesn't fit. And when you have something that fits, move swiftly to help your child. Mine felt like suddenly everyone understood and was giving him the tools to succeed.

Naturally, with all this testing, we also got a plan from the school.  It’s a reasonable plan – but my son is way ahead of all of us. We threw him a life ring – and he grabbed on and learned to swim.  Amazing.