My Explosive Child

With the recent shootings in Connecticut and the viral mother of a mentally ill son blog, I am so grateful that my son and my family are among the success stories. And we owe it to "The Explosive Child".

My son was language delayed, and without having words he acted out, often violently from an early age. He got kicked out of numerous day cares. He kicked, he bit. At 3 1/2, he was accepted into Special Ed preschool where he started getting speech therapy and some socialization training. At 5 they sent him on to regular school with speech support. He did 2 years in kindergarten, but first grade was too much. After valiant efforts by us and by the teacher, we moved him to the contained classroom. In that smaller environment we were able to get his medication straight. But that was only one piece of the puzzle.

My mother was a behavior disorder high school special education teacher in the Boston area. She went to Dr. Greene's seminar for continuing education credits. Afterwards she called me and said, "They just described your son. Go to this seminar." I found one close enough to home and enrolled.

It was as my mother had said. Dr. Greene showed the 20/20 story on his approach right before lunch. The ladies sitting next to me said "I am so glad we don't have any students like that in our school." I was crying. It could have been filmed at my house. If this program could work for the kid in the show, there was hope for my child.

We read the book many times over and worked to put it into practice. Understanding that he had more skills deficits than we realized (emotional regulation is a skill) was like lifting a weight. It is much easier to face something if you understand at least some of what is going on. We set about listening and teaching instead of punishing and blaming. Life improved. Every adult and every school library that got my son got a copy of the book.

Life was not without its bumps. By third grade his speech improved to the point where it was no longer obvious that he had speech problems. He made it back to a regular classroom full time. He still needed support. He still got overwhelmed sometimes and he still had to get out.

He saw the medication doctor on a regular basis and the psychologist as needed. He went through a period where he would make suicidal statements, although there were never any self-destructive actions to go along with it. We trusted that he was ok but had to explain to him how it sounded to other people who did not know him as well. He consciously quit saying such things.

Middle school was tough. He was big, he had a deep voice and when he acted out it looked pretty scary. His case manager was afraid of him and he knew it. We spent the year teaching her what was going on and that he was afraid of what was going even more than she was. He had to know that she had control. After the first year she no longer feared him and the two of them made a good team.

By his sophomore year of high school, he was doing well enough that he lost his IEP. It was promptly replaced with a gifted IEP with the caveats that if he had to get out of class (a privilege that he did not abuse) there was somewhere he could go.

His last full on raging rant (four hours) scared us both. He is 6'2" and 200+ pounds. After he calmed down he asked to go see the psychologist. I felt blessed that he knew he could reach out for help and trusted the psychologist enough to reach out to him. If anything, growing up through ADHD and ODD and working through them had taught to be more emotionally literate and more emotionally aware.

His high school class has seen its share of sadness. Two of the kids he had known from elementary school committed suicide. These were popular kids he used to look at with jealousy. We talked about it. He wished they could have reached out for help. There were just better options than what they chose.

This past year he graduated from high school and just successfully completed the first semester at a small selective liberal arts college. It was important to him to be able to go away to school just like his siblings did. Together we picked a school where he would be a person, not a number. A place with an environment that matched him, rather than a place where he would have to change to fit in. He still calls home to talk if he needs to work through something - freshman year is an adjustment for everyone. But thanks be to you all, I believe my son is on his way to a "normal" life!