Life with John continued status quo for the next year or so. Nothing really changed. He would frequently get angry with me over things I didn’t see coming and I would continue to try my hardest to keep things calm. James was my ray of light in all of this so I turned all of my energy and focus towards him. Knowing that my child was the best thing in my life, I asked John if we could work towards having our second child. He agreed, of course with the stipulation that he be able to continue to work on his game two nights a week. As we had with James, we got pregnant right away.
John and James continued to have a strained relationship (even at a young age). They would get into frequent power struggles over silly things. James started showing sensitivities to things like loud sound and he was very clumsy and always getting hurt. John showed little sensitivity to these things which only made things more strained between him and our son. James was extremely attached to me and he didn’t really show much of an interest in other children. John would attempt to play with James after work each night, but after five minutes it would end with James screaming and crying because he had gotten hurt somehow as John’s play was very rough and James was very sensitive.
James started to exhibit some concerning behaviors at daycare. His teachers would always comment on how smart James was but how sensitive he appeared to be. He would cry if someone walked into him. He was very attached to one toy in the classroom and would become very upset if any other child touched it. Slowly these behaviors turned into aggressive behaviors at school. He would hit, kick and bite other children and would have extremely loud, long and violent tantrums over very small issues. I started to wonder if there was something more going on.
When I tried to talk about my concerns with John he would brush it off and say to leave it alone …. this was all normal kid stuff. I started to field weekly and sometimes daily phone calls from daycare. I tried every tool that I had in my backpack as a special education teacher, but since the behaviors only seemed to happen when I was not around, it was outside of my control. I started having conversations with his pediatrician and she directed me to a behavioral pediatrician. With both children in tow I went to appointment after appointment…. with John no where in sight. The end result was a diagnosis of high functioning Autism.
At first I was in denial. I didn’t see it. I’m a special education teacher. I know what Autism looks like. This is NOT Autism. My son does not have Autism. But as time went on and James’ behavioral outbursts at school and with his father became less manageable, my denial bubble burst and I was only left with the truth that my son did in fact have a social disorder and was in need of early intervention.
Pregnant with my daughter and working full time, I took James to appointment after appointment. I signed him up for occupational therapy in a town 45 minutes away because they would include social skills work into their sessions and bill as OT (so my insurance would cover it). I read every book I could find on Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder and I spoke to every doctor that would pick up the phone and speak to me.
I did all of this alone. John’s life remained the same, comfortable life… uninterrupted by these frequent doctor’s visits. He didn’t change a thing after James received his diagnosis. I remember asking him for help on multiple occasions but he would just shrug his shoulders, look at me and say, “What do you want me to do?”
I decided to try changing James’ daycare to see if a different setting would help. I felt so much pressure to choose exactly the right place. See, while I was accepting my son’s diagnosis at this time, there was still a small part of me that thought his behaviors might be a result of the childcare environment as he never had outbursts when he was with me. I didn’t want the responsibility of choosing a new daycare to lie solely on my shoulders. What if I chose the wrong one? What if somehow my choice made things more difficult for James?
I literally begged John to take the time to go with me to interview daycare centers, but he would reply that he just couldn’t take time off of work. So, once again, I was left alone in this “partnership”. The pressure … the fear …. the well being of our child…. it all was on my shoulders …. alone. I was used to feeling alone in this marriage, but the weight of all of this was crushing. After all… this was my son’s mental health and well being we were dealing with here. There was nothing in this entire world that was more important to me than that.
There were days I needed to remind myself to breathe. I could feel myself developing anxiety and becoming depressed. My marriage created a black hole of loneliness and despair that was sucking me in and devouring me. And all throughout this the dance of John’s arguments and aggression continued.
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that James might be showing aggressive behavior because he was seeing his father aggress toward me. Don’t get me wrong… he’s definitely on the autistic spectrum…. but there are many children on the spectrum who are not aggressive. Now that the children and I have physical space from John, James’ aggressive behaviors at school have disappeared. Sometimes I wonder if I should have left sooner. If that would have made things easier for the kids. But as always, things are always clearer in the rear view mirror. I can only focus on moving forward.