It All Started When He Was 1
My son was about a year old when I started noticing the strange behavior. He had been a sick baby but I hadn’t noticed any truly strange behaviors that weren’t directly related to his illness or medications. He had obstructive apnea but it took a full year for doctor’s to pinpoint what was causing him to be sick. So there were various changes of meds with each misdiagnoses.
But at a year old, I noticed he started becoming fearful of things like airplanes flying by overhead and motorcycles driving by. Fearful is maybe a bit of an understatement, he acted terrified. By two years old, he wouldn’t sleep at night, he developed some irrational fears, he became destructive and impulsive, the temper tantrums started. At this point, I started thinking what’s wrong with this child?
At two years old, he was a bit…hyper. I quickly started becoming overwhelmed. Most of the problem during this time was that I could not get my two year old to sleep at night. I would put him down in bed at 8pm and we’d do the whole temper tantrum thing until about midnight when he’d finally fall asleep. I would go bed exhausted and finally fall asleep by 1 am. He would wake up between 3am and 5am ready to start his day.
At first, he would come and wake me up. But he quickly learned that waking me up meant that I would take him right back to bed and we’d start the bedtime routine all over again, except this time it would last until it was time to leave for work and he’d win anyway. Once he figured out that I wasn’t just going to let him stay up, he stopped waking me up and just started climbing into my bed at night. He would play with my hair or turn on the TV muted and entertain himself until I woke up, then he’s pretend to be asleep next to me. Okay, so now a decade later, it was kind of cute. But oh so frustrating.
We all know how society feels about kids sleeping in bed with their parents. Let me just throw in this disclaimer, my son slept in his own bed by himself for the first 2 years of his life with no problems whatsoever. I didn’t bring this on myself. Once he stopped waking me up, I had lost the battle. I refuse to lock my son in his room at night where he can’t get out if he needs to. That’s not safe. And I refuse to lock my door so my son can’t get to me if he needs to, especially after the apnea issues. So I had lost the battle. There was no fighting it. The silver lining was that I was getting more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep.
A New Chapter
Naturally we go to our parents and our family for support when we’re going through stuff. My parents are typical parents, they know best. I needed to make my son stop coming to my bed. Put him to bed earlier. Put him to bed later. Don’t let him nap. There just had to be something that I was doing wrong, right?
I started thinking my son my have ADHD. Of course that’s when the family turned away from me doing something wrong to doctors being so quick to diagnose ADHD and the medical industry being a big scam to just get money. Whatever. Live 1 day in my shoes, I beg you! I could use the break. This is not normal behavior, there’s something wrong with my child and something has to give.
We lived in a newly built apartment for 3 years. We were the first residents of that apartment as it was just newly built. It was during this time that I went from “this must be the terrible two’s” to “my kid is a monster and I need help!” I learned that he was pretty finicky with food. I couldn’t figure out what it was but foods that were a certain consistency or a certain color, he wouldn’t touch. I learned that changing our routine was devastating to him. For example, he was about three years old and I was driving home from daycare after work. We took a different route that day because traffic was bad and I was in a hurry. All of a sudden he starts screaming in the back seat. I pull over to the side of the highway quickly and park. I turn to see if something’s biting him or what. He’s screaming and crying. I tell him to stop. I tell him to take a breath. It works! He stopped screaming and took a deep breath. I asked him what was wrong. He said, at three years old, “We’re lost! This isn’t the way home!” I explained to him that we weren’t lost and I knew exactly where we were. He said okay but he was skeptical the rest of the way home.
Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World
Not Listening, Routines and Throwing Fits
I had learned that when I was trying to talk to him sometimes, he would be standing in front of me but not listening. One day I really needed him to hear me because it was a safety issue so I told him to open his ears. He put his cute little hands up to his ears and pulled them forward a little
and tuned in to every word I said. I found a trick! It worked, it made him actually listen to me. I used it from that point on.
Another trick I found was when he was throwing his temper tantrums. He would get to crying and pitching such a fit that I couldn’t get him out of it. Finally one day I was teetering on the edge of insanity and exasperated and he was throwing a fit, I just said to him “Stop.” And he did. I said “Take a breath.” And he did! The fit was over! I later learned from my best friend that this is called the STAR technique. Stop, take a deep breath, and relax. It really works. The fits came primarily when his routine was upset, not when he didn’t get his way.
We had a bedtime routine where I put him to bed ad a specific time after he did specific things like brush his teeth. As I’m walking out of his room he says “I love you.” I say “I love you too.” He says “Sweet dreams.” I say “Sweet dreams.” He says “Goodnight.” I say “Goodnight.” Then we repeat that series twice more. But we have to say it three times or it messes it up and we have to start all over. If we don’t start all over and do it right…complete meltdown. Obsessive much?
Pre-School Battles and More Strange Behavior
Every single day was a battle. I would drop him off at daycare/preschool and go to work. I would be lucky to get through the day without a call from the preschool. There are two particular instances that stand out in my memory. I’ll preface them with this – when I enrolled him into that preschool, I told them two key things: that he doesn’t seem to adjust well to change and that to calm down his temper tantrums, just tell him to stop. I told them that he handles change better when he’s prepared for it. Talk to him about it a day a head of time if possible but give him warning that his daily routine is going to change and he’ll handle it better.
One day they call me, “Mom, we need you to come get him. He threw a temper tantrum and now he’s hyperventilating.” I said, “What triggered the fit?” She said, “We told him to go sit at the blue table and he wanted to stay at the green table. We have him breathing into a paper bag now but you need to come up here.” I said, “No. I told you guys to warn him about changes before they happen. This is why. I’m not coming to get him. Put the phone down, walk over to him, get down to his level, look him in the eyes and tell him stop! I’ll wait.” So I listened as she put the phone down and did exactly what I told her to do. He stopped. Immediately.
A few weeks after that I showed up to the preschool to pick him up at the end of the day, they met me at the door and pulled me into a little room with a file in their hands. “We need to talk about your son,” she says. Ooookay. Sure. “Today the kids gathered on the rug for circle time. The teacher was reading a story to them and all of a sudden he turns to the kid beside him and claws his face scratching him. It was very concerning because he immediately started crying and apologizing for it. It seemed like he didn’t mean to do it and that it shocked him that he did.” He was four at the time this happened. I said ummm okay.
That’s not something that has ever happened before, he knows I don’t tolerate violence and he’s never really been violent with other kids. She warned me that the daycare doesn’t tolerate children with behavior issues and that this may not be a good fit for him. *Sigh* I asked her to give me time to get him into a doctor to talk about the issues we’ve seen because something just isn’t right and I don’t think these are necessarily behavior issues. She agreed to give me time to figure things out.
Irrational Fears, Night Terrors and Leg Cramps
I also discovered at the apartment that my son was afraid of wind. Really. Looking back, it all makes sense now and I’ll talk more about that later. But a lot of really weird fears started creeping up during this time and the sound of wind blowing was the most prevalent one at this time. We lived in a third floor apartment a few blocks from the airport. It was windy…regularly. Night terrors were bad at this time and I couldn’t figure out where they came from but they seemed to be triggered by the weird fears he had.
Another night time issue was leg cramps. He got leg cramps pretty regularly while sleeping at night. I couldn’t figure out what was causing them. I would wake up to him screaming and crying and I’d go in his room and he’d be holding his leg. I’d start massaging his leg and I could feel his calf muscle spasm. I would just massage his leg until he went back to sleep and then I’d drag my own zombie self back to bed. As time went by, it got to the point where I wouldn’t wake up right away when he cried or when he woke up. I was so tired that I would sleep through the noise.
This made for some interesting times. I woke up one morning and there was a mural of handprints on my wall made with peanut butter. Then there was the morning I woke up to find my son in his bed watching TV with a box of cereal and the pitcher of Kool Aid….and the morning that there was a steady stream of pancake syrup, strawberry syrup, and chocolate syrup all the way from my bedroom door down the hallway, in laps around the living room, and dining room. Oh there was also the morning that I woke up and found that his pet shark fish had gotten thirsty during the night so he dumped a gallon of milk into the tank. Unfortunately I was unable to rescue the sharks in time. The few that survived the day died within a week or two. Between punching walls, slamming doors, climbing on blinds, and feeding the carpet…my three to four year old had done $1200 worth of damage to that brand new apartment.
Around that same time, I was on the phone with my best friend late one night. She had heard me put my son to bed kind of late that night. But 10pm was the standard time for that. I know that’s late for a four year old, but as I explained to her, if he goes to bed any earlier than he wakes up for the day right around the time that I’m going to bed for the night. This kid sleeps like 4 hours and then he’s ready for the day. I had asked the preschool to cut his naps in half previously but that didn’t seem to help him sleep at night. Almost every day he was going to bed at 10pm and waking up somewhere between 2am and 4am ready to start his day. She told me that’s not normal.
It was normal for me. I didn’t know what to do. I told her I didn’t know what to do. I vented aaaallll of the issues on her and she said, “Okay…here’s what you do…” She told me to take him to the Pediatrician and tell them I’m tired. Explain all the issues to them and see what they say. But above everything, just show how tired you are and ask them for help. Tell them you need a nap. So, I called and scheduled an appointment. And this is where the medical issues begin…again.
If you’ve experienced similar issues and would like to share, please don’t hesitate to drop a comment below. I welcome all participation!