It was January 2018 and this New Year had brought our family from New Zealand into a new home – Australia.
Within three weeks, by eldest had fallen off the monkey bars and fractured his arm, requiring surgery. He was four and a half. I will never forget his bravery and my apprehension as they took him into theatre. Nor will I forget him waking up from the anesthetic. He screamed. A lot. There was rage in his eyes. The nurses tempted him with Icy poles and he hissed at them and very expansively told them where they could go. It was then that the nurses looked at me and one muttered under her breath: “Is he always like this?”
It was a comment that was very familiar to me by now. People who met us, whom we played with often asked similar questions. “Oh he’s just tired” or “He must be getting sick…” I would often say. Those who knew us better knew that it was not the case.
This particular little powder keg has been catching everyone off guard since the day he was born. “Very alert” all the hospital notes said. Didn’t we know it. He never slept. He fixed my gaze in the car mirror at 3 weeks of age. He was smiling at the same time and giggling a few weeks after that. I felt crazy for showing him books at 6 weeks but I recall genuinely feeling like he was following the pages and the story. By age one he spoke over 100 words and had full sentences including complex and abstract topics by 18 months. It would take me some years, and another much more “typical” baby later, to really appreciate how abnormal all this was. But at the time he was just our special boy.
Family humored us for a while – being new parents, being the first grandchild. Yes, of course he was special, aren’t they all? But it wasn’t until the preschool years that we began to run into problems. His emotional outbursts were unsettling. He would shout and protest for hours over seemingly small incidents. The line between overstimulation and under stimulation was a fine one that left us on edge every day. Grandparents were adamant it was our “soft” approach to parenting and lack of boundaries. But how do you set boundaries with a 3 year old who won’t accept “because I said so “as valid enough reasoning? Who seems to have little regard for any kind of authority? Who questions everything? All the time.
It was an isolating experience. He attended kindergarten but some of his behaviors meant that potential friendships did not progress. Not everyone was willing to look beyond the behaviors to the wonderful inquisitive, kind and compassionate child. We had long conversations in caron the way to kindergarten about the melting point of titanium, only to have him open the car door on arrival and scream: “Bum bum poo poo!” at the top of his voice to his peers. He knew exactly how to modify his behavior to impress them. He flew under the radar well.
Whilst looking for other activities locally to fit his interests of science and philosophy we stumbled upon a one-day-a-week kindergarten extension program. I didn’t know much about this at the time but figured it would give us another day of childcare and seemed to fit his interests. Through his passionate teacher at this program we learnt about asynchronous development. We met a number of like-minded families with bright and quirky kids. To speak with these parents who had also had similar experiences was a breath of fresh air. Who had faced some of the same challenges, the same questions and same looks from others when their kids did or said something out of the box. It was unusual to suddenly have a network of friends whom we didn’t have to explain ourselves to. Whom we didn’t need to make excuses for.