I found this book after reaching a new level of desperation about Jonah, as he has become steadily more and more aggressive over the past several months. I suppose that’s why I haven’t written much — there’s not a whole lot of good to share, and I needed time to process what’s going on. The theories regarding his violent aggressions are few and help us none at all ~ puberty hormones, changes in his classroom at the Anderson Center for Autism, God knows what. As usual there seems to be no reason for the outbursts; no antecedents to chart, no behaviors to indicate the storm is coming.
When we visit with him, we can sometimes see that he is acting what we call “squirrely” – a certain look in his eye or a ramping up of his OCD before an attack. And on other occasions, even when he exhibits these things, he’s calm. Fine. Then, like a lightning strike, he’s bolting, upon one of us – a wild, tameless version of a boy. No empathy, no holds barred, fighting as if to maim an enemy.
A few weeks ago it was me he went for, from behind, grabbing hair at the crown of my head with one hand and my long ponytail in the other, yanking with all his might. I pulled his hands down onto the top of my head and cried out for Andy, who was outside and came running. Then two fingernails raked across one cheek, drawing blood. I fell to my knees, bending my head back into his grasp, begging him to let go. A sudden bite felt like he’d torn a chunk out of my back through my shirt, just below my shoulder. Finally Andy got him face down on the floor and I attempted to hold on Jonah’s legs, my butt on his, my hands trying to hold his ankles to the ground, flailing kicks striking me hard, Andy getting head-butted and scratched, Jonah screaming.
The scratches and bite marks are fading as I type this. I lost a few hunks of hair. I am okay. Jonah’s father gets the worst of it and carries marks and scars, both visibly and invisibly, most of the time.
This scenario is a good example of what he does at the Anderson Center when in this state of fury. There they are required to let us know when there is a “2-person take-down” version of Jonah’s attacks. I get an e-mail telling me dates and times. I belong to a Facebook group for parents of kids who are “severely autistic” and a lot of them told me about success with Thorazine – something I’d always thought would make you just one step above comatose – a drug we’d never even considered. After a little research, I learned its effectiveness at controlling aggressions. Because its half-life is so short, often it is administered a few times a day. I suggested we try it, and called the school to say so. They’d just had a team meeting about Jonah and wanted our permission to try a slightly higher dose of Prozac first. Andy and I reluctantly agreed.
On October 29th, the school called and told Andy that they were having a hard time controlling him at all. Andy then called me, no doubt euphemizing whatever they’d said, and told me their new plan: During these severe aggression occasions, they will call 911 for an ambulance to take Jonah to the Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie. I knew they were not being hyperbolic when they stated he was exhibiting severe aggression, and yet my heart sank. Just minutes after this notification, the plan was implemented for the first time. They called 911. An ambulance came. They restrained him, brought him to the ER. After a while they let him out of the restraints only to find him as combative as before. They gave him additional Risperdol. Atavan. Clonodine. Then Thorazine. After hours of this, poor Boo finally fell asleep. Andy had left work early to be with him, and a super kind care worker from Jonah’s residence also stayed at the hospital. By the time they discharged him, he’d spent nearly 12 hours in the ER. Too many meds. Too much too much. There has to be a better solution.
Andy asked me not to drive down. I’m here, he said. I’ve got this. So, feeling both reluctance and relief, I didn’t go. I was too much of a wreck to drive anyway; I’d fallen apart. Luckily I was on my way to sit with 90-yer-old G, whom I visit at her daughter’s house several times a week. The daughter doesn’t want G to be alone; I’m there to give her peace of mind so she can run errands or go out with friends. An extra benefit for me is that G is like having a grandmother again – she is loving and kind, optimistic and fun. We’re great friends now – I wept and sobbed that day while she consoled me in the quiet of the house.
I suppose I could be mad at God, but I’m mostly just so tired of having hope and then losing it again, over and over, like a carousel of emotions — inanimate horses cycling up & down ceaselessly. I’m tired to my bones of despairing, of feeling helpless to save my son from whatever it is that’s making him behave this way. If there were a person to blame, I’d hunt him down and kill him. There are no answers, and the questions & medications keep piling up.
The very next day, October 30 and with our permission, they started Jonah on a 25mg dose/day of Thorazine. At the same time I sprung into frantic action, reaching out to my fellow autism parents, calling our local chapter of the Autism Society of America, researching doctors and therapies and anything I could get my hands on to help my son. On Halloween afternoon, while countless other parents dressed up their children and snapped happy photos, I sat at my computer and bookmarked anything I could find.
I found the book pictured at the beginning of this post and immediately downloaded it to my phone to read.
Hope for the Violently Aggressive Child by Dr. Ralph Ankenman
This blogger’s post has such a good summary that I will not repeat my own, only to say Dr. Ankenman’s theory seems sound and well researched. His theory that violently aggressive children suffer from sudden adrenaline spikes usually encountered only in life-threatening situations would explain Jonah’s super-human strength as well as his sudden departure from himSelf to something wild, uncontrollable, and attacking. It would seem that, of the two categories Dr. Ankenman talks about (Alpha and Beta), Jonah would be an Alpha:
Alpha Type [fight/no remorse]
Alpha adrenaline is tied to the “fight” response — the predator rage of, say, a lion attacking its prey. Children whose wild-eyed violence is triggered by alpha adrenaline seldom show any remorse. Sometimes, too, the rush of alpha adrenaline erases any memory of their blinding rage.
Then I vetted him online, finding that he is no quack, he’s 81 years old, has been a doctor for 50+ years, and is indeed recommended highly by those who have seen him. So I called his office in Ohio, (937-766-5683) hoping the receptionist would perhaps take down my information and maybe he’d call me back, even though Jonah wasn’t a patient.
He answered the phone himself (a huge shock to me) and we talked for about 20 minutes. He wanted to speak to the social worker or doctor at Anderson to determine whether Jonah would be a good candidate for off-label adrenaline blocking therapy. He said that sometimes simply lowering a child’s blood pressure and/or heart rate could mitigate the aggressions. And he patiently listened to my story. He was careful to caution that if Jonah did not have a high heart rate or blood pressure, it could be dangerous to lower it – hence the importance of researching both his resting heart rate/blood pressure and that taken during an aggression. I thanked him for his kindness and felt hope again for the first time since researching.
Though I have signed a release for the folks at Anderson to speak to Dr. Ankenman, they haven’t met yet to do so, and it doesn’t seem Jonah’s got high blood pressure, nor is his heart rate tachycardic. I’m not sure what this means in terms of whether or not Jonah’s aggressions could be treated with adrenaline therapy — perhaps his heart rate and blood pressure have been changed by his other medications, thus masking symptoms which would indicate an adrenaline rush. I don’t know, but I’m still going to investigate.
I’m also finding a lot out there about natural remedies and possible causes, which of course I am on board with — the more innocuous the better. I hate doing the dance of drugs with Jonah, trying one thing and then the next. Andy and I never medicated Jonah at all until he was 8 and we absolutely had to – but I have learned never to hold judgement on others for whatever they have done to help their children. But during my research I found, for example, this article and this video, both of which gave me some hope.
We did have a good visit on November 1st, on day 4 of the very low dose of Thorazine; he was gentle and calm but alert as well. He said two new phrases (“turn music down please” & “mama and daddy”) plus he made many different choices which broke from his routine. Here he is following daddy’s instructions for what numbers to press on the microwave.
Since then, though, Jonah has continued to aggress and has been back to the hospital. His dosage of Thorazine has been raised to 25mg 3 times a day. My instinct is to wean him off Prozac and Tenex and increase the Thorazine (from what I understand, most patients take 250mg/day). But I need to do more research, talk to other doctors. Fellow parents. More people. Informed pharmacists.
If you are reading this and have any information that could help us, please let me know; I am grateful for any helpful input. And if you hear your own child in Jonah’s story, please reach out to me so we can share ideas.
I know I am not alone – and neither are you.