Parents with #specialneedschildren usually come to learn the term “fight or flight”. I wish I had understood my son’s tendency to “fight or flight” earlier or at least known the term so it would have been top of mind. At six weeks old I had to use my entire body to change my son as he fought every step of the process. He would freak out when you laid him down thinking he was falling. He had to be held constantly…constantly. He started walking at 9 months and was running away from everyone from that point on. I became one of those parents that had the backpack leash and wore the face that said “Say something to me, I dare you!”
Whenever I brought some of his fighting or running away tendencies to professionals I was called a dramatic first time parent. “He is just a boy!, “He has a lot of energy!” and “He’s just playing!” But I knew something wasn’t right. And the older he got, the worse it got. Lining up in class for transitions became the constant source of incident reports. I stopped taking him to public places fearing his safety. He would just start running and I didn’t know why. And I couldn’t catch him either! I was telling my cousin (who has 4 boys and knows the difference between “they’re boys” and “there is an issue”) and she told me that’s fight or flight!
After some research, I started paying attention to even the smallest of details around me when he melted down or took off running. The pattern was so clear! Loud noises at the grocery store that you and I would just filter out. The ticking of a clock. Kids bumping into you in line from the front and back. For kids with heightened senses, this is an assault on their senses! Like nails on a chalkboard, but worse.
As he got older I assumed it would get better, but then I noticed a new source for the behavior. His inability to express his feelings or quickly recall a situation on the playground was getting him in trouble. We would get calls or notes from school about him screaming and hitting teachers. We were terrified! What was going on with our boy? We would question him and he couldn’t tell us, like it never happened. What if there was something seriously wrong?
After a particularly rough day at work and at school pick up we headed to the minivan. There were no words exchanged. My face said it all to him. I was tired. Done. I told him that when we got home to go to his room, get his thoughts together and tell me what happened.
And then it happened. I got his side of the story!
He told me that they were playing tag, the little girl in front of him just stopped running and he ran into her. She ran and told the teacher “He hit me!”. The teacher asked, “Did you hit her?” and he replied truthfully, “Yes”. It was what he couldn’t get out that caused the next incident. On the way to timeout he panicked. Unable to runaway, he began fighting in an effort to get away. The more they pushed him to timeout, the more uncontrollable he became. What looked like defiance was a brain going full tilt, but not able to process or communicate.
It even happens when he is sick! Where as you and I might be snarky when we’re sick his behavior looks erratic. Instead of telling you my throat is on fire he just runs. Instead of telling you my stomach hurts he just yells uncontrolablly. As a care giver it’s frustrating and as his mom it’s incredibly sad. I feel so sorry for him that he can’t get out the words to say mommy I don’t feel good. His brain doesn’t process of the same and still and said he just fight, fights illness physically and emotionally.
I am sharing our story in hopes that we can help somebody who has 1 or 2 year old child but they just don’t seem to understand right now. So you can see the signs, push the doctors for answers and begin early intervention.