We always knew something wasn’t quite right.

Every child has their quirks and growing pains, but something was very different about our son. We knew it, but maybe we lived in the kind of denial that convinces you that your child will just grow out of it. Isn’t that what children do, according to every expert, doctor, and book? They just grow out of it.

My son is overly fearful… of everything. Maybe not everything, but most things. Not in the normal sense of being a young, fearful child, but in the sense of almost irrationally fearful. Take hair for example. My son has an irrational fear of hair. It began about 2 years ago. He would see strands of hair and freak out. He’d scream, cry, start shaking, run away. If even the smallest hair was in his bathtub, he would move as far away from it and scream for me to remove it. Whenever I do my hair, he won’t come near me, even when I ask for a hug. He might tentatively come close, but if he sees a strand on my hand or arm or shoulder, he backs away and tells me to remove it. He does it with fear in his eyes… its trippy.

That’s just one example.

This is a problem because of school. In school, he has exhibited signs of terror and fear that concerns his teachers and the school social worker. My son’s eruptions have become so well known, most of the teachers and administrators know him by name.  He is not allowed to go on field trips unescorted because on the first trip to the Botannical Gardens, he bolted 3 times, trying to run home. He was terrified. They say they haven’t really seen his type of reactions much in their careers.

Is it crowds? Is it loud noise? These are the first two places I go to. He does well in locations he is used to like playgrounds, the book store, food shopping. I’m truly worried because this expression of fear began when we got rid of his stroller. I’d noticed he was tense even earlier, but I guess he relied on the safety of his stroller, so I didn’t pick up on it as easily.

The teacher called his father and I in to meet with her and the social worker.  They are concerned because his fear is preventing him from actively participating in important things. His school is unique in that they begin changing classes at the pre-K level. They go to different classes and teachers for social studies, music, dance, and art. He struggles with changing classes, less now than before, but some times, he tenses up and rebels.

His primary teacher says he clings to the teachers and doesn’t interact with the other children as much. He will tell us all about his new friends and their life stories, but he doesn’t actively engage with them. He sits on the sidelines. Or, he plays alongside them, not with him. I thought back and realized that he’s always been like that. In playgrounds, he’d run around alongside the other kids but never played WITH them.

They praise other things about him. They say he has the most expansive vocabulary and the greatest sense of humor. They say he is intelligent, witty, charming, creative ,and artistically talented. They say, however, that he shows little interest in engaging with the other children and that he has low self-esteem because when attention is focused on him, he pulls into himself and trembles… with fear.

Is it our fault?

We have combed his entire life trying to figure out how this developed. We are outspoken, fiery parents who have encouraged his self-expression in various forms. He has amazing energy and is extremely independent. But, like many children raised as only children (he has an older sister but sees her only occasionally), he keeps to himself, preferring imaginative play with himself.

They say he needs therapy. “Play therapy” specifically, because they fear he won’t “make it” in kindergarten. 3 teachers now, 1 teacher then plus several more children. They basically feel like this “fear” has to be treated before he can progress.  What parents wants to hear that his/her child needs any kind of therapy? Who wants to hear that your child is not the perfect little being you thought he was? It hit us like a ton of bricks, having outsiders, experts tell us that he needs help we can’t give him.

We’re going to do the best we can to get him the help that he needs. We are proactive parents and we’re going to have him assessed on various levels. We want to check everything from his hearing he has major issues with loud sounds) to cognition to his adaptive and coping skills. We will be there with him every step of the way, but part of me feels we’re partially to blame. He exhibited these signs before we split, but they’ve seemed heightened since we did. I feel like we’re putting him through SO much change at once: new school, new friends, new homes, etc. that it’s overwhelming him. While he should be adjusting to the normal growing pains of being a 4 y/o pre-schoolers, he has the added adjustments that come with being the child of divorced parents.

No, he isnt perfect, but that doesnt mean something is “wrong” with him. I’m trying to be strong, but when I look at that perfect smile and hear his goofy laugh… I can’t imagine him needing help that I can’t give him.

I’m struggling y’all…

9 thoughts on “Imperfect

  1. Benee,

    Have you thought about having him tested for a form of autism. There is a rare form of autism called Aspergers Syndrome that my baby brother suffered from as a child..But he later outgrew it as a teen and young adult. Many children of above intelligence out grow it…some of the symptoms of what you are going through sound like what my brother went through as a child and are some indicators of this disorder. I am not trying to label or anything and this info is being given confidentially and in complete empathy. God bless and I will be praying for y’all. Check out this link to read up on this.


  2. A number of people have suggested he be tested for autism. It’s such a blow to us… but we’re looking into it so thank you.

    Especially since most of this stuff started around 18months to age 2, when symptoms usually begin to appear.


  3. I was thinking the same thing as Sista K! I know that you will be dilligent until Garvey is achieving at his highest level. Keep us updated!


    1. Don’t think like that. If you can identify the problem, that means you can treat it. It will be a matter of finding what works for him. I know it’s going to be a source of anxiety for you, but and G have a wealth of love and support to carry you through this.


  4. Oh, Benee, big hugs. I think it’s part of being a mother to feel that you’re (1) responsible for anything that “goes wrong” and (2) somehow deficient in not being able to predict, prevent, or treat it. Really, of course, you’re just in a tough situation as a mom, that could happen to any of us. You’re not deficient and you’re not responsible.

    The thing to know about “autism” is that it refers to a whole spectrum of stuff–often referred to as the “autism spectrum.” I know about this because my husband was recently diagnosed as being “on the spectrum.” He has characteristics of Asperger’s but not the full-blown deal. So, saying “autism” doesn’t necessarily mean Rainman, although I think that’s where most of us go before we learn more–there are all kinds of variations and levels of functioning, some quite high. Anyone “on the spectrum” needs some help in learning to cope with how overwhelming ordinary sensory experience can be BUT this is NOT by any means a death sentence. My husband has some struggles, but he has a pretty okay life. If this is what it is, your son can live a full life, with some help in managing the overwhelmingness. His social life may always look a bit odd, but chances are, he won’t mind (it’s generally a relief to my husband NOT to have a social life). There are also tons of internet resources for parents in your position, which you may find comforting–please feel free to email me if you want some help finding them.

    Second, there is also something called “sensory integration disorder” that could also explain some of what your son is dealing with. It can happen by itself or accompany an autism spectrum disorder. This is very treatable, from what I understand. (My husband also has some of this.)

    Third, yes, divorce is traumatic for a child, but growing up in a household with parents who don’t like each other/fight all the time/whatever is not much better. I think it’s natural for parents to feel guilty about the effect of their divorce on their kids, but try to remember that you didn’t have a crystal ball and you did the best you could. You might also flip it, and think of your divorce as modelling for him how adults should take care of themselves in relationships that aren’t working. (Think what the message would be if you had stayed?)

    Finally, I grew up in a household (and so did my husband) where the parents did not believe in getting outside support. I can’t tell you how much this was NOT helpful. As a result, I really believe good parenting is knowing when something is out of your depth and finding someone who can help (and you WILL be able to help, too, you just don’t have the tools yet. You’ll learn them, with the help of a good therapist.) My husband would have been spared a lot of confusion and difficulty and poor self-esteem if his parents had sought this kind of support for him when he was a kid.

    I hope I don’t seem like I’m preaching at you. I just wanted to offer another perspective, and all of the support I can. Again, feel free to email me if you’d like to talk.


  5. (((Hugs))) Ahmir’s teachers have also recently suggested some “special” help for him at only 4 years old. I cried and cried…and then I took action. Took him to the pediatrician and we immediately got to work. I think especially as high-achieving people, it’s hard to hear that our kids have “issues.” We want them to just grow out of them. But we all have our own crosses to bear, and this just might be theirs. We’ve taken the approach of working at home on his issues until his fifth birthday, which is in January. If things are not measurably better by then, then we will get the outside therapy he needs so he’ll be prepared for kindergarten. If he still needs help while in school, we’ll do it. I think it’s better to accept what’s in front of you than worry.


  6. Hugs to you! I have two children that are on the Autism Spectrum and all is not lost. I sense in you a fighter (as seen in your tweets!) and once you find out what is wrong you will handle it by educating yourself and doing whats best for your son. If it is in fact some form of Autism it has been identified early and that makes a world of difference. You fight for you son on any other issue in regards to his well being….this is just another thing you will help him with.


  7. My best wishes and blessings. I’ve seen and taught a number of students like him who have progressed excellently. There are many services and specialists available at schools to assist our special ones. If it’s possible, request an assessment from the school psychologist so that he can qualify for one-on-one assistance with an aide who will work with him throughout the school day. It is well.


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