| Family Diary |

Meltdown: Chapter 3 

When the great day final arrived, Chezky would be wound up like a spring, ready to jump into action — or to spiral out of control


IT’Sthe best of days, it’s the worst of days.

Chezky looooved Purim. A whole year round he obsessed over it. “Mommy, this year I’m being a policeman.” (This was on Succos.) “And I want handcuffs — real ones, and a real gun, too.”

“And, Mommy, when are you buying me my police costume?” (on Chanukah.) “And don’t forget you promised me a real gun.” (Love how his ideas become my promises.)

“How many people can I give this year?” (This, before Tu B’Shevat.) “How much nosh?” The questions were peppered with urgency, a need to know now exactly what will be and how much and where and when.

“We’re not discussing Purim in Cheshvan, Chezkel.” I’d struggle for patience.

“Yeah, but when will we discuss it? And I need sunglasses for my police costume. Can we discuss it tomorrow? And can we give all my friends each a Coke?”

All his friends. That was the saddest part. Because there weren’t too many friends. Which didn’t stop Chekzy from agonizing over a giving list and, more importantly, a receiving list. “So do you think Mr. Drazin from down the block will give me back? Huh, Ma? Should I put him on the list? Can we drive across town to Mr. Carlton who was my English teacher back in first grade? He gave great treats!”

When the great day final arrived, Chezky would be wound up like a spring, ready to jump into action — or to spiral out of control.

“Don’t touch my Skittles!” The shriek had me leaping up from where I’d been painting clown cheeks on the baby and racing to the dining room. Chezky had thrown himself across the table, the precious Skittles clutched to his chest as he raged at his sister for coming near them. “They’re mine!! Rabbi Epstein gave me them in shul!”

“Did you ask Rabbi Epstein for Skittles, Chekzy?” I probed, knowing how he’d brazenly approach anyone, strangers included, to receive a treat or prize.

He glared at me stubbornly. “He was happy to give them to me! He told me a freilechen Purim, yingele!”

Ouch. Rabbi Epstein was a choshuve maggid shiur. I could just imagine the conversation that must have taken place with Chezky asking (nudging?) him for Skittles. Still, to preserve the peace, I marked his Skittles with a huge ches, then tried to get back to the myriad of tasks waiting.

“But when are we going out? When? And for how long? And are we going to Mr. Carlton? When, Ma, when? And why is my gun not real? You promised, Ma! And tell her not to go near my water bottle! Mrs. Weiss gave that to me yesterday, and I’m going to trade it for a Coke! Don’t let her touch it!” And the shrieks pierced the house again.

I used to love Purim. I dreaded it now.

The year Chezky was eight was a Purim that stands out as a game changer.

At night, I took Chezky with me to the woman’s leining, where I figured it would be calmer for him. He ended up running out of shul in middle of leining because a little boy was standing too close to his costume. I watched, my brain racing, wondering if I should run after him and find another megillah reading, or could I leave him and trust him not to… trust him?? No way. I stood up to slip out of the shul, when thankfully, suddenly Chezky came back in. And ran out a minute later. Then back again. I don’t know if I was yotzei reading. I did know I was frazzled before Purim had barely begun.

The morning began not much better. I left Chezky home with my husband while I went to a Megillah reading at a neighbor’s home. He managed to escape the house and show up at the neighbor’s, banging on the door, completely ignoring the sign that said “Megillah reading in process.” The baal korei paused as the hostess opened the door, and Chezky barged in. “Ma! When are we going? We need to get to Mr. Carlton!”

I don’t know whose face was redder, mine or the strawberry-costumed little girl sitting next to me. Thankfully, with much shooing and nu-ing, I got him out again and managed to get through the leining. At home, my husband apologized, and offered to take Chezky to Avos U’Banim so I could organize the mishloach manos. Great. An hour of quiet. Bad mistake.

In shul, the gabbai was throwing toffees to the kids. As he tossed one to a little four-year-old dressed like a Kohein, Chezky leaped in front of him to catch that last red toffee, almost toppling the kid from his chair. The father, a vague acquaintance, was furious. “Why can’t you control your child?” He stuck his face into my husband’s. “Is this how you train him? To push little kids out of the way? What, is he crazy or something?”

My husband managed some placating words, took the offending toffee from Chezky, and gave it to the little boy as a peace offering. Then he dragged a screaming Chezky home by his policeman belt.

Arriving at home, Chezky was yelling, denouncing the world and its unfairness and the treachery of his own father who wouldn’t defend his red toffee. But as my husband related the story to me, the accusation flung in that beis medrash was a dagger in our hearts. What, is he crazy or something?

We didn’t know. He wasn’t crazy. Was he? At least not all the time. But something… something was so wrong with our son, and after three years of pursuing professionals and therapists, we were no closer to figuring out that elusive something.

My heart felt squeezed too tight. As tight as the bear hug I tried to give Chekzy to get him to calm down. But the raging levels of sugar and food coloring weren’t helping his system, and he proceeded to kick and scream and finally ran circles around the room, banging himself against the walls as he continued to shriek like a banshee.

I wasn’t even aware that I was crying. I didn’t want to be crying, didn’t want to ruin Purim, for my kids, for my husband, and for myself. But suddenly I was sobbing, the dam broken, the shards of my heart stabbing in such intense agony.

I ran from the room to my bedroom, ignoring the chaos Chezky was creating, and flung myself across my bed. Uncontrollable sobs racked my body, and my mind screamed from confusion, from frustration, and from pain.

My thoughts formed a phrase, a mantra rocking my brain. Hashem, Hashem, Hashem, I could barely breathe through my sobs. Help me! Help us! Kol haposhet yad, I cried, unconsciously stretching out my hand across my pillow. Help us help this child. You gave him to us. You know what he needs. Give it to us. My hand convulsed, opening and closing. Kol haposhet yad! You can give us the strength, the understanding we need to give him!

Three weeks later, after yet one more intensive, expensive evaluation, we finally got a diagnosis that made sense.

PDD-NOS. Nowadays, it’s called ASD, Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

We’d heard that suggestion before, but rejected it based on Chezky’s verbal acuity, empathy, and ability to hone in on emotions. Now, the ten-page report in our hands left no room for doubt. Chezky was autistic.

And with that agony — the shattering of my dreams and my hopes for my child — came a relief. Maybe now with this knowledge, we’d finally be able to help him.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 840)

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