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The “N” Word

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word “normal.” As in, what is normal for a three-year-old, such as a fear of loud noises or insects, and what is not normal in a three-year-old, which may well be Simon’s level of fear.

This all came about rather suddenly. One spring day my two-and-a-half-year-old boy was cheerfully stomping on ants while I took him away and lectured him about “ant families” and running in circles in front of our favorite ice cream shop while cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles roared by.

The next thing I knew it was late summer and my almost three-year-old son started to cry whenever he saw a gnat, ant, or mosquito, worried that a captured firefly might “hurt me” and became paralyzed by fear when he heard loud noises. Any time a plane flies over head, he freezes in his tracks, grabs my leg, and cries. Any time a bus roars by he stops what he’s doing, grabs my leg, and cries. Ditto back-firing cars. Ditto big trucks. Ditto metal power washers on decks and roofs. Ditto smoothie-making blenders. Double ditto loud thunder. Triple-ditto fireworks.

Not too surprisingly, this all began to appear around the fourth of July when the bugs were thick in the air and the fireworks deafening. We made the unfortunate error of leaving my pyrotechnically inclined brother Perry’s house on July 4 just as he set off something incredibly loud. Matt swears it was a concussion grenade and that Simon’s cheeks wiggled from its power. Whatever it was, Simon shrieked from instinctive, deep seated terror and has been terrified by loud noises ever since.

I assumed this was a phase. I assumed it was typical of three-year-olds or nearly three-year-olds. I assumed that it was to be expected given Simon’s sensitive nature. And I assumed it was annoying, but no big deal.

Simon’s teacher and the director of KIP, however, disagree. And that’s what has set me off to the books and the pediatrician, in that order.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My first hint that Simon’s behavior fell outside the parameters of normal came when a friend saw Simon react at a park. “I don’t want to freak you out,” she said, “but you see this in kids with Asberger’s. I’m not saying he has it—I don’t really know much about it—but if it happens all the time and he has this much trouble, you may want to have someone check him out. But again, I don’t want to freak you out, and I’m certainly not saying I think anything is really wrong.”

Later that day, after the same friend watched Simon happily play soccer and converse with a  neighbor, she looked at me and said “never mind.”  Still, the seeds were planted that Simon’s sensitivities were not looking normal—whatever the heck “normal” is—to others.

Then about two weeks ago, when I went to pick Simon up from school, his teacher and the school director greeted me and expressed their concern. After seemingly getting used to school by the end of the third week, he had two particularly tough days in the fourth.

Specifically, he was back to having a very hard time with transitions during the day, and he was frozen with fear on the playground to the extent that he abandoned his regular play-mates and unhappily stood alone. Worse, their attempts to comfort him didn’t see to be terribly comforting. Meanwhile, he can’t explain why exactly the loud noises scare him, he cries whenever another student cries, and when I ask him about school his usual response is “school is loud.”

I, arguer of all things, can argue this one pretty convincingly in both directions. In the “he’s fine” column, I note the following:

  • He’s always been sensitive.
  • He worked through this last year AND at camp.
  • During the week in question, his teacher had missed a few days and I had traveled.
  • When I Google “toddler fear loud noise”, it seems pretty common.
  • He’s not even three!
  • His dad was a lot like this when he was little.
  • His uncle was (is?) terrified of fireworks, too.
  • I’m no great fan of loud noises or changes.
  • My niece cried every day for six weeks when she started preschool at an older age, and she’s ok.
  • That day at the fair, two days after the teachers spoke to me, he had a blast and rode a pony.

In the “Oh God, something is wrong with my child” column, which is accompanied by visions of years of therapy, special schools, and a life of misery, I note these items:

  • These ladies have seen a lot of kids under their watch, and it doesn’t look normal to them.
  • It’s getting to the point where, as the saying goes, “it’s interfering with our daily lives”.
  • All the other kids seem to be doing better.
  • While he did OK at school and camp, he decidedly did NOT do OK at the teacher appreciation lunch, where Mr. Magic scared the bejeezus out of him and required his being removed to his room, or at his friend Leah’s birthday party, where he took one look at the crowd and the hired clown in her living room and announced “I can’t like this party.”

The “Oh God” list is shorter, to be sure, but has some real zingers in it. So we’ve seen our pediatrician, and I have a list of child psychologists to consult.

More on that trip to the doctor’s and my subsequent research in the next post.

One Response to “The “N” Word”

  1. blg says:

    Thinking of you and hoping for the best.
    Also, respecting your well bounded approach – not panicking and not ignoring.
    Though I am sure you face some scary possibilities, alone, in the dark, late at night.

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