We struggled through 10 long years of what we refer to as “different” behaviors from our son Nathan along with countless medical and psychological evaluations, referrals, and mountains of paperwork before receiving a definitive diagnosis.
I’ll never forget that day! There I sat, all alone in a conference room. My husband, a soldier in the U.S. Army, was preparing for yet another deployment so he couldn’t attend the diagnosis meeting. Seated across the table was an entire team of doctors and nurses, all with varying degrees of psychiatric/psychological expertise.
So MANY different emotions raced through my entire body. I felt a deep sadness in my heart BUT extremely happy in my mind, if that makes sense. I just knew that this had been a long time coming and these people were about to tell me what Nathan’s “different” was.
Dr. J, the head doctor on the team, cleared his throat as the registered nurse who was sitting next to him stood and seemingly glided across the room gently placing a box of Kleenex tissues in front of me. The box was blue and purple. I’ll never forget the colors of that box. It became my point of focus as I sat in silence with a huge lump of absolutely nothing yet it felt like a huge lump of absolutely everything somehow suspended in my throat.
As the nurse returned to her chair, Dr. J spoke in the most gentle voice barely above a whisper. My eyes switched focus, he was now the center of attention not the Kleenex box.
He said, “Erica, we have exhausted all means of research, we’ve combed through all of Nathan’s medical records and evaluations, we’ve assessed him and his thought processes by conducting our own psychiatric and psychological as well as medical and educational evaluations.” The lump in my throat grew and I felt my posture change. I almost felt as if I was literally sitting on the floor. After all of these years, all that was between me and a definitive diagnosis for Nathan was a few moments in time and a Kleenex box placed on a large brown table.
Dr. J took a deep breath and said, “Nathan is on the autism spectrum, he has Pervasive Developmental Disorder, NOS.” I sighed, thinking that it was all over, my legs crossed and nervously knocking against that large brown table. For a moment my eyes locked directly with Dr. J’s eyes and he said firmly “But there’s more! Nathan also has Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Depressive Disorder, Mood Disorder, he’s displaying signs of compulsive behaviors, and I’m all but certain Bipolar Disorder BUT I’m reluctant to attach that diagnosis given his age.”
My heart was racing. It was at that moment I realized why the nurse had gently placed the box of Kleenex in that very spot. I took in a humongous breath and loudly let it all out. Then came the tears, uncontrollable tears. They streamed down my face, onto my neck. I felt what seemed to be complete wetness around the entire top half of my body. I felt my bottom lip tremble, my heart breaking from the inside out, sadness and confusion. I was trying to form the words to pray because one thing was for sure, in that very moment, I needed guidance. What did this mean for my child? What did this mean for my family?
The nurse stood and glided across the floor once again this time taking a seat next to me and placing her hand gently on my shoulder as Dr. J continued to give me the basis for each diagnosis. As he laid it all out, I realized that he was describing my Nathan. His diagnosis was spot on as if Nathan was the “poster child” for every single disorder.
My eyes shifted focus back to the Kleenex box. The strokes of blue and purple seemed somewhat safe as if I could just rest there for a moment. In that moment, I prayed quietly to myself. “Lord, I need you right now. I need to feel your presence. I can’t do this without you. I’m not even sure that I can speak another word or even find the strength to stand without you. Lord, I need you!”
The nurse’s grip tightened on my shoulder and I felt my legs stop moving. They were no longer knocking against the table. I felt this immeasurable sense of calmness and peace. My posture straightened and with my chin lifted high, I communicated that I fully understood each diagnosis pertaining to Nathan. Dr. J continued speaking, “He will never do this. He is not capable of doing that. You might want to consider lowering your expectations.”
He passed me the super thick packet containing all of Nathan’s evaluations and an explanation of each diagnosis. We scheduled Nathan’s next counseling session and everyone seated at the table stood.
It was in this very moment that I knew that I had a choice to make. I could continue to sit and wonder OR I could rise and do everything in my power to ensure that my son didn’t become a statistic. A “given his full diagnosis, he probably won’t ever” statistic… I rose!