“I am trying to grow my hair long!” Mark wails at me as he ducks the wet brush I am wielding. He does not understand. I have no problem with him growing his hair long, but I would like the hair to grow down. Instead his hair seems to be growing out and up. His hair right now looks like he had a terrible accident with a very angry seagull and an electric socket, maybe at the same time.
Mark says he would like to go out and use his scooter at the park. I tell him that I am afraid that if he goes too close to a tree and stays still for a minute that birds may nest in his hair or some squirrels may decide to harvest their nuts. He is not amused. “I am going out now, mom. Put that hairbrush away.”
Now that Mark is one month away to being eleven year old we hashed out some extra freedom. One of his new things is he is allowed to go by himself to ride his scooter down the beach path to the park and back. I stand back in the window so he doesn’t see that I am watching him, and as he scooters through a turn, flying around the stone wall towards the park, for a few minutes all I can see is his head. For the life of me, it looks like a clown lost his wig and the wig is fleeing across the wall.
Melissa asks if we can go to the park. I say yes and get my pocketbook. “Wait a minute. Where is Mark?” I tell her he is scooting outside and that we will no doubt run into him as we head to the park. “No” she wails, “I don’t want Mark coming to the park with us, my friends will be there! He acts too strange, Mom and what if he gets angry! He might swear and yell, he might try to hit someone. Then we will have to come home early and I won’t get time to play!”
Melissa has a good point and I do empathize but I offer her the choice of bringing her brother or staying home. A few moments later Melissa flies past me on her scooter for the park. She is sullen and not talking to me.
Mark decides to join us at the park, as we arrive he turns to me and asks, “When will I be allowed to go to the park by myself?” I tell him I would have to talk to his father about that and he accepts the answer and takes his scooter over to the basketball court. As I sit on the bench while making sure I can see Melissa who is playing with her friends, I think about Mark’s question. The truth is I have no idea when he would be able to go to any park by himself. Autism and bipolar disorder has put Mark on a different timetable than most average children.
What worries me the most isnt Mark but other people and how they might react to Mark. I remember when Mark was first discovering Harry Potter, he would run around school and the park casting spells on everyone he saw. He would mutter incantations for hours to himself and others. When the second Harry Potter came out, it involved a rather large snake monster and Harry discovered he could hear and understand it. He also could speak the snake language which was a whispery, hissing mumble of sounds. For the next several months every time we were in public Mark would crawl around and sneak up to kids and adults alike, whispering his snake voice then slither away again. This made others nervous. Several parents of toddlers would take their child and leave the park if Mark showed up.
A carnival came to the Salem Commons, which was at the time Mark’s park of choice. I decided to risk it and took Mark to see the carnival. He actually managed to wait in line for the rides, though he did keep trying to whisper snake things at a little girl in front of him. The trouble came when he saw a police car parked in the middle of the grass. He wanted to climb on top of the car and make a spell on everyone. When I told him no, he exploded. Screaming curses at me he started to beat his fists onto the police car. I moved him away from the vehicle and he started to kick and hit me. Within seconds I had his shoes off and I was sitting in the grass, pack holding him. At that moment I discovered I had an audience, a big one. Everyone of course had an opinion to express. One old lady yelled, “You should have the police called on you! Or child services! Kids don’t act like that for no reason!” I looked at her and said,”Right! Kids don’t act like this, which means something is wrong, get it? He has autism.” Another person said clearly, “You shouldnt let him near others then. Why did you bring him here?” One voice was strident and accusing. “You cannot hold kids like that. You are hurting him, I think this is abuse!” Mark straining and screaming in my arms didn’t help the situation at all.
Finally, the officer that owned the police car showed up. I explained what was happening and he helped me get Mark up. Seeing a police man was a big deal and deflected Mark’s upset. He calmed down to talk to the officer and was elated that he could get a ride home in the police car. We are very lucky to live in Salem, MA where the police understand special needs children. Actually by the time Mark was four pretty much every police officer knew who Mark was. During this time period for some reason Mark started bolting. He would be getting on or off the school bus and suddenly decided to run like demons were at his heels, while giggling madly. He was faster than most adults and he would throw himself right through bushes and people. There was never a clear destination in mind, he just ran until he no longer felt the need for speed. He also bolted during school hours and at home. Parking lots, school yards and of course the bus stop were his favorite bolting places. Many times a police officer pulled over, leaned out a window and yelled, “Hey Mark, want a ride in my police car?” This would usually work and Mark would cheerfully let the police officer take him home or back to school.
Luckily, by the time Mark was seven he lost interest in bolting except for occasional urges, and those were less than once a month. Besides by now the bipolar disorder had kicked in and Mark had new interests. He watched Alice In Wonderland and somewhere deep in his brain a light turned on. Mark would read the book over and over and watched Alice until I had to buy extra copies because they would die after being handled by Mark so often. “I am just like Alice, Mom, I live inside my head too and I can see things you can’t.” He would tell me when I asked what was it with Alice that he liked so much. Suddenly, things turned dark and he informed me that sometimes it was the red queen he liked best. He himself could be the Crimson King and rule the world. Hence, the beginning of mania for Mark.
During one of Mark’s worst episodes he was at school, ripping his clothing off, voiding his bladder on the floor and rolling around like a demented rodeo clown the counselors and I decided that Mark needed to go to the hospital. I met the ambulance at the emergency room at Salem Hospital and there was Mark, half-dressed, cheerful and polite. The nurses and doctors gave him a lunch, a video game and a private room. They told us they would get him evaluated but he seemed fine to them. I tried to explain that the dilation in his eyes meant a quiet before the big storm, but of course, who believes the mother? Mark spoke with the doctor, three counselors, two nurses and was informative, clear speaking and happy. When the insurance lady showed up to evaluate whether our insurance would allow Mark to visit the Hunt psychiatric center for inpatient services, Mark leaped off the bed, knocked me into the wall and fled out the door,giggling.
Dodging all the nurses, he managed to get out of the children emergency doors into the main hospital, ripping off the rest of his clothing, voiding his bladder again and swearing up a storm, running down the halls. Envision if you will, the sight of an overweight naked boy, peeing, cussing, streaking down a hallway, followed by nurses, one mother, security guards and police men. At one point a woman, some administrator comes out of her office directly in Mark’s way. She puts her hands on her hips, and says loudly, “Young man, you cannot use that language in this hospital.”
At this point I sat down right there in the hallway and started to laugh. I remember staring up at this woman, tears of laughter streaming down my face, she was so horrified, he had given her the finger and peed on her shoe as he flew past, I gasped out to her, “Really? He is naked, running from policemen, in a state of psychosis while peeing, but his swearing is bothering you?” Within another minute Mark was caught and put into restraints for his own safety. This was the moment I knew the only way Mark and I would survive is if I developed a sense of humor real fast. So I did and so did he.
Why did I just tell you all this? And why didn’t I even try to make it more funny or soften it up? Because this is the truth. This is really our son and these are situations we really go through. So do many other families with children that have special needs. Everyone needs to know, when you see a child doing something that is not average, there may be a reason for that. Do not judge the child or the parent when you may not understand the situation. Sorry this wasn’t very funny but I really needed to write it out. Thanks for reading it.