Friday, December 7, 2007

The Struggles of Tommy

The phone rang at 11 in the morning.

I picked it up.

"Hello, is this Mrs. M****? This is the school psychologist..."

I closed my eyes briefly. I already knew what it was about.

Tommy....

For the past two weeks, Tommy has been crying in school.

He's been obsessing over things.

If he raises his hand and doesn't get called on he flips out. He'll burst into tears and shout angrily, disrupting the class.

When the teacher does call on him he forgets what he wanted to say. And then flips out because of that.

He copies the other kids. If someone gets up for a tissue, Tommy follows them.

If someone gets a drink of water, Tommy needs a drink of water.

If it's not his turn to be the line leader, he bursts into tears.

The teacher called a few days ago.

"Tommy has been crying non-stop for the past two weeks...is something going on at home?"

No.

I'm at a loss.

He does have his freak outs at home. If he can't find a certain toy, if we don't allow him to have sweets...things like that. Things that I found normal in a five-year-old who is being denied what he wants.

But never at school. He's never done this at school.

Until now.

"We had a fire drill the other day," the teacher told me. "And Tommy refused to walk unless he was behind this certain boy. The whole class had to wait for him...."

"A few days ago he wouldn't stop crying so I had to put him in a crying chair. He sat crying for twenty minutes," the teacher continued.

"I don't understand," I finally said, feeling my heart drop. "I don't understand what the problem is."

What's going on in his mind?

Why is he doing this?

I ask him all the time.

"Tommy, why do you cry at school?"

Tommy gives me a wide grin. "Because..because I want to," is his response.

"But Tommy. You can't cry at school. You can get frustrated, it happens, but please stop crying. If you're sad, tell the teacher," I said.

"Okay."

But each time he goes to school, he cries.

"Tommy," I told him this morning as we waited for the bus. "Remember today at school you're going to be.." I trailed off, waiting for him to finish.

"Happy!" Tommy said with a smile.

And then the phone rang this morning.

The school psychologist.

"I observed Tommy this morning," she told me. "I saw how he cried."

How he cried?

Tommy, you said you were going to be happy....

"He wanted the teacher to call on him and when she didn't, he burst into tears and wouldn't stop," she added.

Oh God, why? I don't understand, I don't understand....

"I made a social book for him and we read it together. It explained how he needed to wait his turn and that sometimes it's not always his turn. We also went over how he had to play with other kids and not just play with one," she said. "He loved the book. I can see he's happy. But then a few minutes later he had to do his work and he wasn't able to leave for recess unless he was finished. He cried over that."

I sighed. "But did he finish he work?" I asked hopefully.

"He finished his work, yes. But you could see he was upset. He did it with tears rolling down his cheeks.."

Oh Tommy.

Tommy, what's wrong?

I pictured him as a newborn, staring up at me with his bright blue eyes.

"I'm going to take good care of you," I told him.

Tommy, I'm so sorry. Have I failed you?


"I have to ask, does depression run in your family?" the psychologist continued gently.

I tried to swallow the huge lump that had formed in my throat. "Yes," I croaked out. "My aunt. And my husband's sister."

"The reason I ask," the psychologist continued, her voice still soft. Knowing that this had to be difficult for me to take in. "Is because he does exhibit a lot of signs. He'll be incredibly happy one minute. The teacher said almost maniacally happy. And then the next minute, he's bursting into tears."

I remember reading that some ADHD kids suffer from depression and anxiety.

"He does have some autistic traits," she said. "But at the same time he's social and wants to be liked. He has excellent eye contact."

"I'll make him an appointment with his doctor," I said. "I'll see what she says. Maybe a medication change..."

"That's what I was going to mention too," the psychologist said. "See what the doctor has to say. The doctor might want to put him on a mood stabilization pill too."

Tommy, what's happening?

Do you know how difficult it is to hear that your child is struggling?

His teacher says that he's very smart. He's at a five-year-old level. He does all his work so far.

"But his behavior is going to impact that soon. If he doesn't..." she trailed off.

Stop it. If he doesn't stop his behavior, he's going to get behind. I knew what she wanted to say.

I don't understand.

I don't know what's happening.

We even tried sending him to school WITHOUT his medication.

It was worse.

Not only did Tommy cry but he jumped around the room, shrieking and flapping his arms.

"What am I doing wrong, Tom?" I asked, after I explained everything to him.

"You're not doing anything wrong. It's Tommy," he said. "Something's not right with Tommy."

I tried to read his expression. Was it breaking his heart as much as it was breaking mine? To know that something was wrong with our kid?

Tom remained stoic about it. "Just make an appointment and explain what's going on."

A part of me wished that he would show emotion. Maybe a voice crack, wet eyes, SOMETHING...

But nothing.

I tried to make an appointment.

"We're sorry, nothing is available..."

"But," I explained. "My son is struggling with school. He NEEDS an appointment.."

"Call first thing in the morning. Maybe we can get him in."

Does no one care?

My kid is struggling with school. My kid is crying at school. My kid is disrupting the class.

"Help me," I whispered to myself as I slid into bed last night. "I don't know what to do anymore.."

I don't know who I was talking to.

It pained me to have to explain to family members what was going on.

"How's Tommy doing?" they all asked.

"He's fine..he's.." My voice always gave it away.

"What's wrong?" they all demanded.

So I told them.

I even wrote to Dr. Phil. I know it's ridiculous. But I know he has ADHD experts on his show. Experts period.

"I don't know where to turn anymore," I wrote. "Please help me, Dr. Phil.."

I need to know what's going on with my kid.

I don't know how this all works.

This never happened to me in school.

I was always the kid with no problems. "Amber is a good student," teachers would say about me. "She just struggles with math.."

That was basically it.

And Tom.

Tom never really had problems with the teacher. He was just teased throughout school.

Yes, I did ask the teacher if Tommy was being teased.

He's not.

In fact most of the kids take a Mother Hen role with Tommy and help him.

I just hope the doctor can suggest something.

I feel awful for Tommy.

"It's like he doesn't quite understand what's going on at times," the psychologist continued.

Tommy, don't worry. Mommy is doing everything she can to fix this for you....

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