“I think something might be wrong with Tommy.”
I still remember uttering the words. Tommy was about three at the time. He barely spoke and he did this funny thing with his arms that I realized other kids didn’t do. When I’d bring him to the park he would rarely climb and play on the toys. No, instead he preferred to race around in circles. Sometimes I’d watch him stare at an object and he’d just walk back and forth, back and forth.
“Nothing is wrong with Tommy. He’ll grow out of it,” Tom told me. He refused to believe that anything could be wrong with his namesake. But still, I could see his frustration when he’d try to toss a ball to Tommy. Our neighbor had a boy about Tommy’s age and that boy could easily catch the ball. I could see Tom thinking, Why can’t my son catch a ball?
“Come on, Tommy, hold out your arms,” Tom would coach and Tommy, who wants to please everyone, would comply. But still the ball would slip down his stomach and drop to the floor.
Tommy’s preschool teacher would call at least once per week.
“We can’t get him to sit still at circle time.”
“His speech is incredibly limited.”
“Tommy flips out when we have a fire drill.”
This continued on to Kindergarten. I began to feel helpless. I was trying to do everything I could to help Tommy. He had speech and occupational therapy since he was two, when we realized he was so behind other kids. I’d sit with him on my lap and we’d point out pictures in books.
“Look Tommy, look at the girl in this picture. What is she doing?” I’d prompt.
“Crying,” Tommy said.
“What do we do when people cry?”
And he’d just sit there because he honestly didn’t know. To say, “Give her a hug,” wouldn’t even pass through his mind.
I became lost in various books on how I could help Tommy. I’d search for hours online hoping I’d come across a miracle cure.
“I don’t feel like you’re here anymore,” Tom admitted one day.
“I’ll never be fully here until I know my son is okay,” I answered as I flipped through another parenting book.
“I feel like I don’t have a wife sometimes,” Tom said. “You’re always pouring through books. You don’t...you haven’t asked how I felt about all this. I hurt too. I hurt because I see my son needs help and I don’t know how to give it to him. I don’t know how to bond with my own kid. I don’t....I don’t know how to bond with my own kid.” Tom hung his head and looked away. I was sure he was blinking back tears.
I had been so busy searching for answers that I hadn’t stopped to realize how Tom was feeling. I knew how thrilled he was to have a son. When we found out I was having a boy, he was so happy.
“I’ll teach him to play ball!” Tom had said excitedly. He bent down to talk to my bulging stomach. “Do you hear that Tommy the Third? I’m going to teach you to play ball!”
But what happens when that boy can’t catch a ball? What happens when that boy is trapped in his own world and would rather stare at an object and walk back and forth, back and forth…what happens when your kid has so much energy that he can’t seem to concentrate on basic rules for a game?
This story has a happy ending for us though.
I realized this as I sat on the bleachers for an assembly to watch my son, that same boy who flaps his arms when excited, get an award for being a Persistent Student, a kid who never gives up even if he’s struggling. He’ll keep trying until he gets it right. If he makes a mistake, he wants to know how he can fix it.
You see, we found out that Tommy had Asperger's Syndrome and ADHD. We were able to figure out how to help him. He began to come over to our world.
So I clapped and clapped when Tommy’s name was called, knowing how far we’ve come:
“Is he yours?” the woman beside me asked.
I smiled as wide as I could. “Yes. He’s mine.”