Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pimpin' ain't easy.....neither is being an aunt

My beautiful, sweet little nephew. Quick to smile & laugh, but shy. When he was a baby, I marveled at his ability to be so happy all the time despite his chaotic home-life. As one of his primary caregivers since he was just a couple weeks old, I was the first to notice he didn't seem quite on-track developmentally. I brought it up to my brother, his dad, only to be brushed off. This pissed me off for two reasons: 1) it seemed careless and 2) it further proved how little my brother knows me b/c if he knew me at all, he'd know I'm not prone to hysteria when it comes to children & their various ailments. (Freaking out gets nothing accomplished any faster than good old fashioned calm.)

Last year, we fostered my nephew while his mom went into treatment for her drug addiction & my brother ran off & tried to hide from reality. Frustrated w/ the lack of response from his parents and with the sudden ability to take action, I got him all caught up on his well-child checks & made an appointment with child development services to have him evaluated. They determined he was significantly delayed, but before the follow-up appointment to discuss an approach & the severity of his delays, his mom graduated into a family recovery program & he was placed back in her custody. Thus ending my involvement in developmental care.

A year later, at the age of 3 1/2, he has come a long way. He can talk quite a bit more, though he isn't using complete sentences yet. (He can string 2-4 word phrases together occasionally.) He mimics words & can sing bits of songs that he hears often. He can communicate some very basic thoughts. These are all things he has learned since he's been attending the Child Development Center twice a week for the last several months. To me, that is nothing short of miraculous. But it doesn't quiet that voice in the back of my mind, telling me that something more is going on. His meltdowns have become less violent in nature, but they are still intense. At the tiniest change in environment or routine, he absolutely loses all ability to cope & is thrust into an unstable emotional state. He cries & throws himself on the ground. These fits can last as long as an hour, but are never shorter than 20 minutes. And they rarely make much sense. One minute he's fine and the next, he's bawling his eyes out.

My concern isn't that he can't overcome whatever challenges he's facing. But I fear that without proper evaluation & possible diagnosis, he will get far worse before he gets better. I have this gnawing feeling that he is autistic. I've felt this way since he was about 18 months old or so. He fits so many of the classic symptoms, but I am nowhere near being an expert on this and know this is not a diagnosis one should take lightly. I don't think I'm clinging to this idea b/c I'm stubborn & refuse to believe he's simply "delayed". Call it intuition or instinct. I may not be his mom, but I'm the next closest thing. I know, deep down, there is more to him that has been discovered so far. Not being the one with the ability to talk to his teachers or ensure he gets follow-up evaluations, I have nothing to go on but the word of his mom. (Not that I don't trust her, but she isn't extremely informed herself, so I have little faith that she understands what's going on.)

I've decided that tonight when I take him home, I want to talk to his mom about allowing me to contact his teachers to ask them the questions I've got running around in my brain. Approaching the subject will be precarious, given the nature of motherhood. No woman wants another woman to butt in on her responsibilities. I think if I choose my words carefully, she'll understand I'm coming from a place of love & concern for my nephew; not condemnation or judgement against her parenting skills. I'm not trying to "replace" her or anything like that. I just want to have all the information I can possibly get to help me deal with my nephew's special needs & hopefully help him. I need to be proactive; I can't just sit idly by & cross my fingers that everything turns out okay.

Tonight during my daughter's Open House at school, my nephew began having one of his fits that lasted for about 25-30 minutes. The trigger was a cookie. He got one, but he wanted two. (None of the kids got 2 cookies b/c there needed to be enough for all the kids who wanted one.) Almost 2 hours later, he tried to drink my daughter's water bottle (which would have been messy), so I gently took the water bottle from him & gave him his sippy cup. This simple action triggered a second fit that lasted only about 20 minutes, but he began crying out "cookie" b/c he was still fixated on his earlier trigger. The other day, he had a 45 minute fit b/c I asked him to straighten his cup b/c it was about to spill. I don't know how significant or insignificant these details are, but they're starting to add up. I catch myself getting irritated at my nephew b/c of my own ignorance to his developmental delays. After that comes the guilt. I don't need a specialist to put a label on what my nephew is going through, but to have some additional information or explanation would go a long way for me toward gaining understanding.

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