My Jem will be turning 6 in a few weeks. I’d like to take a moment to share with you a bit of what he’s accomplished in 6 abundant years because I’m thankful for the early intervention he received and proud of this boy and his loving heart.
A few weeks after Jem turned one my children and I fled an extremely abusive situation and found sanctuary in a domestic violence shelter. The very first night Jem would not allow himself to be set down — if Melody or I weren’t holding him he went into a full-out panic and screamed relentlessly until we held him. Our first night was sleepless as I sat up all night with a newborn and Melody tried desperately to help Jem relax and fall asleep in his bed.
As the days progressed the children and I settled into a routine and learned to accept the help of the staff at the shelter — we began to tentatively begin trusting — except for Jem. He screamed around strangers, clung to us and panicked when anyone but family tried to touch him. Eventually the child therapist met with me and suggested that Jem might benefit from an interview with an early intervention specialist. I thought Jem was just having difficulty adjusting to strangers because we’d been completely isolated by our abuser and Jem wasn’t accustomed to others. No matter why he was behaving the way he was, I knew he was very uncomfortable and I hated to see him struggling and anxious around non-family members, so I set up a meeting to have Jem evaluated.
The first specialist came to us in the safety of the shelter. It didn’t take long for her to realize that Jem’s behavior was severe and that he needed some help. She referred me to a local pediatrician who referred me to a pediatric neurologist. That’s when things got pretty scary.
Jem exhibited many classic symptoms of autism and another very rare neurological disease. The neurologist suggested the only way to diagnose Jem was to begin testing to rule things out. I was asked multiple times if Jem’s abuser had ever shaken him, but I couldn’t give a definite answer. As the testing progressed, things got scarier and more ‘possibilities’ were added to the list than subtracted.
When we left the shelter, Jem was around 18 months old, his anxiety issues had not lessened, and I still had no answers — I was very frustrated that the neurologist wasn’t helping my boy or making any progress.
We moved to a new county which meant new case workers for Jem. They worked for months to get him accepted into a special needs school, and by his second birthday he was attending classes three times a week. Jem still would not communicate – he would not speak or even point to something he wanted — it was very difficult for all of us, but especially Jem.
By the second week of school my son was using sign language to communicate. As the weeks passed I saw him make remarkable strides in all areas in which he had been struggling. It was a miracle to me to watch my little boy blossom and learn to ask for help, and eventually to speak. The greatest blessing was to have the staff at the school call me into a meeting to tell me they believed Jem’s developmental delays were caused by the stifling, abusive home he had been in, which was something I had repeatedly suggested to his neurologist, only to be disregarded.
There was a workable plan for my son and it paid off. When his time was up at the school, Jem was walking, talking, and allowing himself to be touched. His anxiety was gone and he was a happy, healthy little boy. The specialists at the school met with me on his last day and said that Jem may be on the very low end of the spectrum, but there was no doubt he would be capable of attending main-stream schools.
My Jem started kindergarten this year. He plays chess and video games, loves attending church and making friends. He’s got a huge heart and you’d never know there was a time in his sweet, innocent life that he lived in the torment of abuse.
These are all mighty accomplishments for a soon-to-be six-year-old.
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