Jack. I feel as though simply stating his name to anyone who knows him can convey so much more than just an introduction or provide more than just a verbal glimpse into who this child is based on his chosen by us label. I am fully aware that these are the perceptions of a parent that loves their child, but nevertheless. To say “Jack” is to invite yourself to ponder the possibilities of endless imagination and adventure.. To say “Jack” is, for me, to know what it feels like to be a kid again. I’ve been told that I light up when I say Jack’s name, and I like to believe that is true. I know that when I talk about him I feel this swelling of emotional tides within me. I may not be one hundred percent fulfilled by my children, but when I speak of Jack and the love that I feel for him, I know that I’m damn close.
Despite all of that though, I can still be a crabby bastard when he doesn’t meet my silly expectations of what he can do. These expectations have been constantly molded and remolded over brief amounts of time and, sometimes, wholly abandoned. Funny that I seem to be happier when they are thrown to the wayside and I just let whatever will be. That’s not to say that I don’t take the actions that are necessary for raising a healthy, well-adjusted (whatever that may mean) child. However, I have found that when I am less concerned with the things that Jack doesn’t do and simply letting him bask in all that he does do we are both the better for it.
I try to walk, as much as I can, along a higher plane. Its how I live my life and it enables me to not always be such a crabby bastard. However, my body and mind belong to this realm for now. And here and now, there are some things that Jack needs some help with.
Now, a little bit of background on Jack and the help he needs. When he was two Jack was diagnosed with a speech delay. We had our own concerns and they were confirmed by professionals and we sought the help we needed. Jack received Speech Therapy for over a year and he made leaps and bounds in progress. Even then, the chorus of advice was that we were expecting too much. We didn’t think so. We didn’t really think at all. We just knew. We knew our son needed some help.
Being able to navigate the differences between my expectations of my son and the things that he truly requires additional resources for is a tough path. If I had to do it alone I’d probably spend most of my day in a fetal position. I have, obviously, the wisdom of my partner Allison. More than that, we have cultivated a community of support in the last few years that provides a wealth of experience on all matters. I truly don’t think anyone can do this alone and that community is vital.
Jack is, now, one of the most talkative boys in his class and a bit of a social butterfly. Hos classmates adore him. He’s got a great sense of humor and balances his silly with some actual smart comedy for his age. More importantly than that, Jack is kind and he’s considerate. However, as I said, there are some things that Jack needs help with.
When Jack turned 3 he was assessed by the Los Angeles Unified School District to see if there was any need to continue his speech services and they said no. Which was cool. We took that to heart and didn’t pursue any services on our own. We continued on with our lives and, truthfully, we kind of treated it like “Ok, now thats over”. When he was turning four we started to notice some things that kept cropping up. There were obvious things, like his fine motor skills. Jack can’t really hold scissors, but he tries. He can’t make anything more than a streak on a sheet of paper with a crayon, but he tries. He never wants to put on his own clothes, but he tries.
These weren’t as concerning to us. Everything with Jack had come a little later. He walked later. Talked later. He was just a late bloomer. However, there was more and the non-physical stuff was what was most troubling. Jack seemed to have trouble with communication. Not talking, but communicating. Expressing himself. His vocabulary was extensive and his reading was getting better and better, but he didn’t seem to be able to actually converse. I know. This is usually where I am trumpeted with the volumes of “He’s only 4!” The thing is, I spend time with a lot of four-year olds. I, generally, know what the average conversation with one looks like. There is a degree of back and forth that just wasn’t present with Jack. It was as if he was having a conversation with out having one. Like he knew a conversation was something that you should have, so he was trying to do it without really understanding what he was doing or how to do it. Asking Jack something abstract like “Did anything make you happy at school today?” would be treated with a quizzical look and him parroting back “What made me happy?”
I don’t know if that actually makes any sense if you’re not seeing it, but one thing that I do know is that no one will ever know your child better than you do. Discovering that Jack needs help doesn’t mean that I want him to change, it means that I want him to possibly not have a harder time later on in life. I want to provide him with the options to grow, in any way that he can. That’s my job.
So, we did what we think you should do as parents. Find the options. After an occupational therapy assessment with a fantastic private institution, we found that Jack’s raw scores were well below his age range. There was, as we had been suspecting, a deeper issue in how he was processing information. A friend of ours who is in Special Education pondered whether or not he was “crossing the mid-line”. That is, are the two sides of his brain effectively communicating. This lead to reading the book The Out of Sync Child, most of which contains more extreme cases of Sensory Processing Disorder. I have to admit though, I saw a lot of my son in some of those pages. We followed up the OT assessment with a speech therapy assessment at the same place and they agreed with us that Jack is having a problem processing information. Specifically, they believed he is having problems with his working memory and his retrieval in the moment. As I had already seen, this tends to really come out more in social situations than anywhere else. There was a sort of comfort in these assessments. Finally, some one was telling us “Yeah, we know what you’re talking about and here are the strategies for how to deal with it.” Jack’s Speech Therapist compared his memory to trying to make a grilled cheese sandwich in a disorganized kitchen that you’ve never been in before. If you say “go in there and make me a grilled cheese” you are going to spend a lot of time just looking for the ingredients, the cookware, the utensils. She told us there are things that we can do to help Jack clean up his “kitchen” as it were.
We decided, since Jack will be attending public school next year, to go back to the school district with these reports and see what they had to offer. This is kind of where I begin to lose faith with the Los Angeles Public School system. We were, at best, treated as over alarmist parents. We were told to wait and see. We were told “he has the right to whatever type of personality he’s going to have”. I love that sentiment, I really do. Do I have any doubt that Jack can thrive in a public school setting? None at all. However, do I sometimes worry that if these difficulties are left unchecked that he will find ways to vent his frustration? Yes. Have I had thoughts of him at 6 or 7, still unable to draw his letters and feeling stupid because of it? Sure. Do I sometimes think he might feel alone because some of the other kids are playing a game that is too complex for him to quickly follow. I’ve already seen that.
So, yeah, as far as LAUSD is concerned Jack is perfectly capable of “doing school”. I don’t have issue with that conclusion in the least. I do, sort of, take issue with the idea that you don’t provide help until they’re already failing. And, don’t get me wrong, I get it. When you are a public school in the city of Los Angeles and you are asking questions like: “Does he know his shapes? Does he know his colors?” than any parent talking about the executive functions of their four-year old is going to seem a bit loony and over the top. Jack is not autistic. He’s not disabled. His brain processes some information differently than most and this could lead to both magical and terrible places for any kid.
So, where we are right now is a little bit of a gray area. Any formal diagnosis for Jack would lie in the realm of psychology. We are awaiting an appointment with a child psychologist and Jack is going to speech and occupational therapy at the same Center at which he was assessed. He starts Speech this week and has been doing O.T. for 2 months. He’s already come so far. His awareness of his body has increased, his speech and language is formulating new ways to relay information everyday. I think that we are duty bound to continue as we are. Making sure that Jack is at swim lessons, the park, karate, playing with other kids, painting, drawing practicing his letters and cutting, putting on his shoes…all of it. Our job is to just help him facilitate living his life.
After that assessment with LAUSD, I found myself wondering: “Is this all just me?” I mean, his teacher and his pediatrician have their concerns as well. Allison and I are on the same page. However, I found myself thinking, wondering if I am doing him a disservice by having him spend time in a gym playing with therapists rather than running around a park. I started to think about how I was feeling when the assessors from LAUSD were talking. I found myself carefully watching my language. If I would say “Jack can’t” I would tell myself “Oh, don’t say that, you sound too negative” and things like that. I felt inauthentic. I was allowing the opinions of others to cloud something that I have always known: that, above almost everything else in my life, Jack’s well-being is the most important thing to me. More importantly, they had me questioning what I consider an absolute truth: that, right now at least, I know my son.
From ages 3 to 4 I did the “just take him to the park/Disneyland/zoo/wherever” experience thing. The bottom line is that Jack benefits from some extra help in certain areas. We, as his parents, are going to make sure that he gets that help until we cannot do that anymore. In the meantime, he will simply be who he is: Jack. We will bear both the burden and the joy of whatever the simple stating of that name conjures in ourselves and the people around us. Sometimes it’s frustration. Sometimes, when I’m really off, it’s a desire for things to be more “normal”. Usually though, it’s merely a verbal catalyst that forces me to recognize how amazing my four year old boy is. How lucky I am to have this beautiful, smart, healthy boy in my life. Jack.
Jack. Can’t say it enough.