Don't let anyone tell you different: a diagnosis may be a blow to the solar plexus, it may be the shatter that presages your world's splintering and collapse, or it may be the best thing that ever happened to you. Sometimes, it's all three at once.
Ours was more like a great, galumphing oh, duh. Hand smacks head. Jaw drops open. Silence, then a blathering, spluttering set of epiphanies.
Who hugs you at school? I asked him, OT report in hand. His face slumped, suddenly sad. Nobody, he said, and we both stilled. Sat there, each waiting for the other to fix, or understand, or explain this. He curled up in my arms, coiled, then relaxing into satisfaction. As if, I guessed, the extra cuddle was sloshing, spilling retroactively into the hug-less school day. Oh. Duh.
I carried that melting-into-good moment with me, and used it in the face of the Eldest's uglier moments. I began hugging him at pickup, while on good days, he made resigned faces at his friends. And maybe the hug sloshed over, or maybe it didn't, but there were fewer days when he yelled at me for showing up, the anger, the shrieking, swinging a fist that almost-but-not-quite connected, the explosion of a kid who can't handle anything more. He had more days when he knew that the hug was coming, and it would let him rebalance himself. Once, twice he smiled - and on one astonishing day, he chattered happily all the way home.
My days wobbled, ousted from their solid orbit between the poles of Horrific Dash Out the Door to Duck and Grit Teeth Pickup. No fool me, I knew a solid duh when I saw one. And I began to spread the OT's advice around liberally.
A pleasantly heavy layering of blankets, and the Eldest began to sleep better - managing many nights in his own bed. Some of those nights, he managed without his brother wrapped around him, to the protests of the small, Eldest-cuddling brother. When I tried the trick on the Toddles, our bed seemed to grow cavernous and wonderful. Fuelled by slightly more sleep, I began to wonder. Duh?
I stepped into shouting matches, and hauled the Eldest into hugs. Thanks, Mum, he said, suddenly cheerful. I needed exactly that. I pressed a firm hand onto his shoulder during clashes with the Man, keeping the rest of my body neutral, uninvolved. The Eldest relaxed under my hand, pausing, and finding a new gear. Watching, we all four blinked - and I went shopping. Duh.
In a quirky little store, I found fiddly things, of fidgets, as the store owner called them. My son has ADHD, and I stock tons of these, she said, and began lecturing about their various virtues and drawbacks. A week later, fidgets blossomed in the classrooms, and any number of happy little fingers fiddled while their brains worked. And the Eldest beamed, loving that his friends shared his tactile pleasures, certain that anyone else was missing out.
His teachers beamed with him, while the air turned a happy Disney, diagnosed seashell-pink. All was right and good, suddenly. When the Eldest stood next to his chair while working, one knee on the chair - off the chair - on the chair - one foot tipping the chair backwards, that was fine, the teachers said. He often didn't join the others for a huddle and talk after a game in phys ed, but oh, that was fine, the teacher said. He drummed on his siddur, rather than reading from it - but that was fine, said the teachers, and on and on. Was it possible to be cured by dint of diagnosis alone? The Eldest seemed happier, and I? well, I was insufferably triumphant.
If the Eldest has a diagnosis, then I'm to be vindicated, aren't I? Freed from loving, caring criticism about how I parent, how I should parent, what my child really needs - or ought to do. See? I could say, he's cracked. That's why you should shut up and let me do this my way. Or, see? I could tell my Guilt-o-Meter, he's cracked. That's why you should flip that arrow back to zero, and let me off the hook. Neener, neener, neener, o ye People Who Know Better. And I sneered, happily.
It was fun, but frankly small, even petty in light of the kid himself. And to be honest, I was awed by his bonelessness in the midst of a hug, the sudden wash of peace when he found himself in my arms, or the sharp, even painful spike in energy and motion when he swung into motion. Touch and peace, motion and whooosh! - these are the two poles of the Eldest's diagnosis, and they are inevitably imbalanced, balancing each other while individually extravagant. Richly peaceful; screechingly in motion. Watching the kid teeter between these poles. knowing finally what I was seeing, the sight outweighed any neener-neener. I began trusting the diagnosis, and bullied our way into an occuaptional therapy clinic that specialized in multiply-cracked kids. Balance, not broken, I told myself, and repeated this silently as I drove to the OT appointments. Learning, not cracked. Have diagnosis, will fix. In the back seat, hugged and fed, the Eldest muttered to himself, drawing diagrams of possible coups.
The OT taught us about engines, and how they can run high, too high, or too low. Sometimes, rarely, just right. It was classic self-awareness, self-regulation stuff, and I was all for it. She taught the Eldest methods for giving himself measured bits of motion, without throwing himself into the whee, whizz, bam! of bouncing-off-walls motion. She asked him to chart his engine at various points in time, gave him cards and photos to use in selecting his tools. But he despised it all. Growled. Roared - and then, in true Eldest style, became very, very calm.
This engine thing, he said, doesn't work. Sometimes my engine is supposed to be high. Like in gym class. Sometimes it's supposed to be low. I eyed the hairsbreadth between me and a shriek, wondering if he was right. The Eldest refused to discuss engines, tools, or to actively regulate his behavior. An old pro at pain-management tools, tricks to be self-aware, the kid now sneered at suggestions that he might want to choose something to help him sit and do his homework. Something to redirect him when he was fighting with his brother. Something to help him be a better teammate? I suggested, and he roared.
After school, I was pulled over by the teachers. He's having a hard time, they told me. It's been a rough week. And then, another.
Maybe, I asked, eyeing the end of my rope, and scenting the lower third of his bucket, maybe, the kid's right? I sat down with the Eldest. Okay, I told him. Forget the engines. You are right: they are wrong. Let's try something else. And truly, we did.
We mapped out speed zones - low, medium, high - and made lists of what activities fell into each category. We designed a speedometer, and found a plastic box for him to carry it in. There! I said, triumphantly. This is better. And I relaxed, certain that the problem was the tool, the Eldest's understanding of it, and especially his sense of ownership, of investment in that tool. We've fixed it, I crowed, and the adults happily anticipated success, while the Eldest tried gamely for a few days. Then quietly gave up, choosing diplomacy over the picket line.
Is he using any of the OT's methods? I asked the teachers, curious. No-oo, they said, slowly. Thoughtfully. When we ask him about his speedometer, he just takes that as a different way of telling him that he needs to be better behaved. And the inevitable followed.
Duh, I thought. And wondered if his real rebellion was against being broken. Sproinggg! went the Guilt-o-Meter, and I rather thought that I deserved it. The Eldest dropped his tools at the bottom of his bottomless backpack, and left us staring at the flattened, battered diagnosis.
Maybe, said the OT, we should do a few more sessions, after all. And nobody, I'm sure, sighed.