Several months ago, my little guy was evaluated by an occupational therapist. During the evaluation, one of the many he’s had in his little life, Theo had a bit of an outburst. It was the kind of violent outburst that he typically saves for the comfort of our home. I was relieved that the therapist was witnessing the episode. It’s difficult to describe certain behaviors without feeling paranoid that I’m being too dramatic and not giving an accurate description.
“Was that normal?” I blurted out the question that goes through my head on repeat on a daily basis. And, oh yes, I know, no one is NORMAL. We are all different….blah blah blah. (Side note: the new buzzword replacing normal is neurotypical.) When it comes to children, however, I often have a hard time differentiating between that which should be addressed with some sort of intervention and that which should just be considered neurotypical behavior for a certain aged child.
“No, that’s not normal,” was her respectful response.
When I’m assured that something is not normal about my little guy, I get a strange sense of relief mixed with sadness. I almost feel like I’ve received some sort of permission to be struggling, permission to feel overwhelmed. I’m reassured that I’m not overreacting, that I’m not just a totally inept mother. But, the sadness comes when I stop selfishly thinking about how his current particular challenges affect ME and start thinking about how they affect HIM.
Then, the confusion settles in when I recall that, according to his teachers, he does not exhibit these violent outbursts at schools. So, of course, I question what I’m doing at home. My house must not be clean enough. I yell too much. I should be eliminating gluten from his diet again. Did I accidentally give him food containing artificial colors? My head spins with all that I must be doing wrong.
So, I asked the therapist, “Why doesn’t he show this side of himself at school.”
She didn’t have an absolute answer. (How could she?) She suggested that school has a more controlled environment with not as much visual stimulation reducing sensory processing issues. Then she offered up a more compelling reason,
“They might not be challenging him enough.”
It was the best answer, not because it made me feel better, even though it did, but because it made sense. The fact that he acts out at home and not at school has caused me much consternation and self doubt. And this simple statement just turned it all around for me. It’s possible that he’s given a certain level of comfort at school. But, at home, I’m forcing him out of his comfort zone. My soccer coach used to say that the best way to improve your game was to move out of your comfort zone, go play with another team, go train with players who are better than you, take some risks. He was right.
I push Theo out of his comfort zone because it’s a way to encourage growth and change. And likewise, I can’t help but think that God is allowing some of these challenges and the sufferings that come with them to push me out of MY comfort zone. We, my husband my other children, are all being pushed out of our comfort zones, so that we too, along with Theo, can grow and change. And we have to have faith and hope that we are growing and changing for the BETTER.
When Theo’s struggling, when I’m struggling, I’m TRYING to remember that I’m growing. Growing in faith, growing in courage, growing in patience, growing in love. Oh, it is so tough.
But…a voice in my head that just has to be God reminds me:
Courtney, my daughter, you’ve always loved a challenge.