When our first child is born, its very common for parents to say “This child is special. He/she will be able to do anything. He is going to be a lawyer. She will be America’s Next Top Model.” The possibilities seem endless. The thoughts of things not going as planned never enter into our minds. We need to ask ourselves some serious questions. What would I do if my child has problems? Can I handle this? What kind of life can they have? In our case, we had to ask ourselves these questions…..15 years later!
As some of you may have read, my son Mikey was born premature at 28 weeks gestation. He overcame alot of obstacles. I had issues with him over the years mainly behavior-wise. It was as if I was just beating my head into a wall when trying to get through to him. Nothing I tried seemed to work. I became very frustrated and was feeling like I was losing my mind. I blamed myself (as did several others) because I just couldnt get through to him. He would act differently around other members of the family. I could not understand what I was doing wrong.
I tried 5 different kinds of ADHD meds in less than 2 years. They didnt work. I saw several different doctors. All I kept hearing was that Mikey had ADHD and was developmentally delayed due to his prematurity. I bought into that diagnosis for the first few years. But when doctors kept saying this at 10-13 years old, it sounded ridiculous! I knew that something else had to be going on. I saw other kids his age and they didnt act like him, talk like him, view the world as he did, or have his type of general understanding. At this point I was overwhelmed, frustrated, and just left to wonder.
When I enrolled him in high school in North Carolina in August 2015, the school had to get a copy of his records from West Virginia. When they got the records, I was asked to come in for a IEP meeting due to the fact that Mikey received Special Ed services (classes) at school. I have attended these meetings each year since he started school. I knew what they were all about. So, I attended this meeting with my mother (Michael was at work) and was ready to sign my name and go home just like I always had. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to hear.
The assistant principal, EC teacher, EC case manager, my mother, Mikey and myself were sitting at the table. They started going over his school records etc. As they were reading about testing that had been done, I heard something that I had never heard before and I stopped the man right in his tracks. He said that Mikey had been diagnosed as having mild intellectual disability. I knew what that meant. I asked, “Are you telling me that my son is mentally retarded?” Each of the staff members at the table looked at each other and then looked back at me and said, “Yes.” My heart sank. I just kept thinking that this cannot possibly be true because I was never told. The records indicated that this was discovered a few years ago and that Mikey’s IQ was barely 70. After telling them that I didnt know anything about this, I asked them to retest Mikey because this might be a mistake. They agreed. I barely made it out of the doors of the school before I burst into tears. What was worse was that Mikey was there and heard all of this. I didnt know how he was taking this news.
Over the next few months, Mikey was extensively tested. He was even evaluated by a certified psychologist. When all of the results were in, Michael and I were called back to the school for another meeting. I was hoping that the previous test results were wrong. Both Michael and I knew that if they were right, Mikey was going to have a tougher time at life than others. Naturally, we wanted him to have every opportunity in life. No parent wants their kids to struggle. The results were not what we expected…in fact they were a bit worse.
It was determined that my 15 year old son has a moderate intellectual disability (moderately mentally retarded) with an IQ of only 48. Again my heart sank….deeper than before. We were then informed that with this disability, Mikey could not acquire a typical high school diploma due to the rigorous course studies required. This is what perspective college students would do. A 4 year college is not possible for Mikey. At this point, Michael was beside himself with feelings of sadness and hurt. He became a bit angry before the staff was able to finish telling us what WAS available for Mikey. It turns out that an occupational course of study diploma is available for students who want to enter the workforce rather than college. With his disability, this is what was best for Mikey. After explaining this to Michael, we agreed and enrolled Mikey into the occupational course of study.
After a while, we were able to talk to Mikey about everything. We explained it all in a way that he could understand. As for myself, I decided to read all about intellectual disability. In doing this, I got the answer to several questions. First, Mikey’s behavior was not a reflection of bad parenting by me or Michael. Second, me not being able to get through to Mikey was not my fault. Third, Mikey acting differently around other family members was him trying to act like everyone else. With me, he was being himself. Fourth, there are options for a person like Mikey even reaching adulthood. He can lead a life on his own…..with a little help from others. Fifth, I CAN handle this.
Mikey continues to amaze me for all of the obstacles that he has overcome and the young man that he has grown to be. He has a silly sense of humor. He loves music. He is an awesome gamer. I am prepared to care for my son for the rest of his life. He did not ask to have his diability. The road ahead may not be paved in gold, but I sure that there will be a shimmer or two 🙂