So I came across a news story on Yahoo about a special needs kid getting his high school diploma. Proud mama is grinning, and the headline reads Child With Severe Autism Beats Odds To Graduate.
Severe autism my ass. I’ll show ’em severe autism.
I guess we’ll need new terms to describe people like Jonah. Perhaps we could use adjectives from bags of Doritos: Extreme autism. Ultimate autism.
Or natural disasters: Tragic autism. Catastrophic autism. Lately it’s felt pretty catastrophic. Jonah’s gotten worse and worse, with a few glances of happy, like this one on Christmas Day –
One tick of grandma’s kitchen clock – and even as he smiles, you can see him reaching up to pull my hands off his body, take off running-humming-spinning. At the next tick of the clock he’ll turn on you snakestrike quick, hands snatching hunks of hair, scratching skin, head butting, legs kicking, all the while strangely quiet as if silenced by a fear of his own violence. (When I visit him, I’m always half-blind; I don’t dare wear my glasses and I can’t wear contacts).
Thorazine didn’t work, though they tried raising the dosages steadily. And now the Anderson Center for Autism has reported to the Albany School District that Jonah is not meeting his educational goals (which include behavioral benchmarks).
In other words, you’ve got to find somewhere else for this kid.
Andy and I knew this might be happening soon. They’d hinted at it before. The Anderson Center reassures us, at least, that Jonah will not be sent packing on the next train to nowhere. They’ll continue to teach, house, and help him until we find a more suitable placement. In fact, one of his behavioral specialists tells me they’re planning to set up an alternative learning environment for Boo, where he will be the only student. It’s probably almost necessary, in fact, given Jonah’s recent attacking.
I don’t even want to consider what options there were for someone like Jonah a hundred years ago. I’m grateful it’s 2016, and I’m grateful for Anderson’s staff, who have worked so hard to help.
It’s just that I always considered the decision to place Jonah in residential care as the edge of the cliff. You do as much as you know how to do – call on every resource, employ every method you can, persist in every hope – until you face this wall of reality and on the other side your child must eat-sleep-learn-breathe-live away from you. As in, not in your home at all.
It was the end of a geographical era in our lives. It was an atom bomb. A record-breaking earthquake.
But not really. Turns out it’s just another chapter in a book about a kid so behaviorally affected that even the residential school we found for him couldn’t handle him.
An e-mail from this past Wednesday: This email is to notify you that Jonah was in a physical intervention on 1/20/16 at 10:30am, 10:53am, 12:30pm and 1:40pm. They’d called an ambulance to take him to the hospital the day before, because the aggressions were so frequent. The hospital isn’t the place for Jonah when this happens; Andy and I know it. But what is the place when this happens? Where can he go?
If Jonah gets better, he will undoubtedly stay at Anderson, of course. The cogs in this machine turn slowly, and if we can just get a handle on this, Jonah’s life need not be disrupted.
Urgency + desperation + helplessness = how Andy and I feel. We talk about it carefully, if at all. Not a lot needs to be said. “Where Jonah goes, I will go,” Andy tells me. I believe him; he moved to the Rhinebeck area when Jonah did, more than four years ago. He has a life there now – a job and a girlfriend he loves. But we take things one day at a time. We try not to put carts before horses.
Now Jonah has been completely weaned off Thorazine. Beginning tomorrow, he’ll start taking Clozaril – what seems to be a “last-resort” drug, usually used to treat very severe schizophrenia. And nobody even tried to sugarcoat the situation. This drug is risky. The information I look up is scary.
From drugs.com: Clozaril is available only from a certified pharmacy under a special program. You must be registered in the program and agree to undergo frequent blood tests. Jonah’s nurse explained how everything is well monitored – in fact they can only get 7 days of the medication at a time. Andy and I signed a form, as we always do with a medication change, but this prescription also had to go before the board of health as well.
I never thought I’d be okay with a drug that has so many warnings.
On second thought, I don’t think “okay with it” is what I am about the drug, or about any of this. But Jonah’s doctor said she’d used it on 10 patients and 9 of them showed significant, life-altering improvement. It gives us all hope, somehow, still.
The cycle of Hope and Despair turns stubbornly. In the midst of despair, you think you’ll never entertain hope again. Hope has let us down, after all. It’s let us down every fucking time. Despair is painful as hell but at least there’s no one holding a football to yank it away at the last second.
What a deliverance of hope it would be if Clozaril was the answer! I allow myself to imagine it this day for a tiny piece of time – a Jonah freed from aggression, from anger, from violence. My happy boy, our sweet Boo, the baby-est angel.
If I indulge in the fantasy, I come running at the football again, trusting Hope to hold it in place. What does it mean to come running again and again, knowing the football will be yanked every time? People have philosophized on this.
I don’t know. I just don’t want Jonah to hurt anymore.
I took this photo last week during a car ride, when Andy pulled over and we got out to avoid being kicked. These pull-overs happen frequently; Jonah’s good at scrunching way down in his car harness to get good leg extension and reach us in the front seat.
You can see Andy’s reflection in the window. Juxtaposed with Jonah’s expression, I think it paints a poignant picture.
Today was better, at least during our visit. Two direct caregivers walked Jonah out to Andy’s car to avoid the recent attack-mama-or-daddy-as-soon-as-they-walk-in-the-residence pattern. One of them told me Jonah’d had a severe aggression about an hour prior to our arriving, so we set forth with trepidation…but despite much kicking and multiple pull-overs, Jonah was better for us than he has been.
In the apartment, I even got him to sing a little as he traced a large figure eight in and out of Andy’s bedroom into the living area. We sang I’ll Be Working on the Railroad, Bye Bye Blackbird, and more than a few Guster songs for good measure. First I sang a line, then I motioned at Jonah, who easily picked up the melody, lyrics, and rhythm.
I thanked God for it.
Evidently they’re expecting Jonah to respond to Clozaril within two weeks, if he’s going to respond at all. Tomorrow’s the first dose.
Hell, I may just run at that football one more time.
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