Every two years Buddha is tested by the masters of care in neuropsychology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. At the very least it’s an exhausting exercise in stress management. At its crux, it is a test of aptitude, designed by super smart people, that strips brain function and ability to learn down to scribbles on a sheet of paper. It’s a rough couple of days, but necessary. It pushes our little man to his thinking brink and past his emotional limits, and it fills me with dread waiting for his place in the world, in school, to be whittled down to pencil marks and checked boxes on officially recorded forms. He is the kid on the paper and so much more.
The test is the tether between Buddha’s brain development, his epilepsy, his abilities, and the real world. It is an eight-hour gauntlet of academic prowess, executive function processing, cage fighting stamina, and emotional regulation manipulation. It’s given to see if and where his brain is progressing or regressing, to label any learning, emotional, or attention disabilities, and to validate or debunk any testing the public school system has done or not done.
It’s a bitch! It’s like trying to catch a NY subway as it’s racing down the track. It’s like trying to catch a NY subway while you’re naked, running violently through a crowded tunnel, where you don’t understand the signs, and the damn train is racing down the track. It scares the shit out of Dave and me because, with the results, we have to accept, all over again, this mean, ugly disease. We have no choice but to see where he is and where he isn’t. We have to have the courage to look at the steaming gap between him and the typically progressing world. And that sucks! Good or bad results, it doesn’t matter. We leave splattered by epilepsy and its bludgeoning gap.
This latest test seemed to be no different. Buddha did great and charged forward as only he can. In his Captain America costume and white blanky by his side, he led the charge with his tenacious, caring heart on proud display. And, as always, we left splattered. No matter how we look at it, no matter how proud of Buddha we are, no matter the strides he makes, he never really catches the train. We fail every time. It’s our job to teach him how to catch the train. We are supposed to lead the way, get there first, and make sure those damn doors don’t close without him.
Buddha did great, but this time, the gap is even wider. This time, we had to imagine a life where we are only ever running alongside, feverish and determined, but always missing the train.
Here’s where he stands. His academic scores and IQ are dropping. But, and thank goodness for this, not because he is regressing, but because the others are leaving without him. It’s good news; it could be worse, his brain could be deteriorating. (I didn’t know IQ scores could change but they can. It’s a marker based on a forced normal like everything else in the world, so I try not to be afraid of two those evil, stupid letters. I try.) He’s not losing brain power; it’s just that he can only do so much with what he has. But, with that, he is still moving forward, and that is a huge blessing!
His attention level was average, the little shit, because, that is not what we see at home. But it’s positive because it means he can buckle down in short bursts when it matters. The test is intended to push him, but nothing can replicate his day to day struggles, so we average the results and are glad for him that he was successful on the day. His attention scores also highlight his ability to hyper-focus through his ADD and anxiety, which is, at least, valuable information if not frustrating to him and his parents.
His memory is selective and in the end, will not likely ever serve him. Some of it works and some not at all, and each day is different. It does not matter the time of day persé as much as how we present him with retainable information. By the time he goes to bed, he can not tell you what he did during the day. But if you paint a mental picture for him, he gets the essence and the bullet points; he feels connected. If you give him three scenes he can recall the overall message of them, but we will not be playing memory any time soon. And let’s not forget to only give him two directions at a time.
Details are thin, timelines are moot, and sequencing is not an expectation we should expect. He will need graphic organizers for school and life, indefinitely, and he will always need tricks and reminders. In spite of that, intuition, feeling, and images help get him through. And, thank God, we live in an age of modern technology. He might have to take pictures all day to get him from point A to point B, but he’ll get there. Hopefully. Plus, he’s damn good at faking it! He can even fool me into believing he knows what’s going on when he doesn’t even know where he is. And that is good news considering how cruel people can be to fellow humans with disabilities.
His stamina is what it is. Considering he seizes every day and takes enough medication to kill a bull, it’s a miracle he can function at all. But, we’re managing that with daily naps and clipped activities. It’s the best we can do, and it’s better than it was a year ago.
Here’s what all this means. My son will not be able to learn or function at societies level of expectation, and the gap will most likely continue to widen, and he will most likely fall farther behind.
In many ways, all any of us can do is mind the gap. It’s the train’s job is to race on not worry about the gap. All we can do is mitigate our stress. All I can do is my best to teach Buddha to run, to fall, to rest, and to try again. It’s my job to teach him how to catch that train, to help him believe he can, and then help him accept falling without feeling defeated each time he misses it. I don’t know if I have what it takes to do that.
I hated that damn gap! It makes me want to scream and curse at the sky and the seeming unfairness of it all, but there’s only so much we can do about that. So, we will keep running; we will keep trying to catch the train. We will tell him that he is perfect just as he is and that working hard and being kind is all that matters. We will highlight and reward all the beautiful pathways his brain does take and the difference he can make in the world because of it. We will tell him a thousand times a day that we love him more than anything, no matter what. We will tell him he doesn’t have to catch that particular train, that there will always be another.
But of course, that’s pretty much a lie.