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t’s 5:34 a.m. Tzvi bounces into my bedroom, singing at the top of his lungs. Have you ever tried yelling quietly? Let me tell you, it doesn’t work.

“Shush!” I whisper-yell. “It’s still the middle of the night! Please be quiet!” I plead. But my baby’s cries alert me to the fact that it’s already too late. The other children slowly make their way to my room, rubbing their eyes as they totter.

It’s the start of another day.

I belong to a lonely club. There are no support groups, no chesed girls to help. No offers of assistance, no neighbors to lend a hand. When I do try to reach out to the services that would make my life a whole lot easier, the people closest to me attack: “Why are you making your child into a case? Don’t you care about his future?”

Of course I care about his future. I care about my own future and the future of my other children, too. And that’s precisely the reason I try to help myself, and help my son at the same time.

My son is mainstreamed. He’s not learning disabled, so he manages to follow along nicely in class. But so many other aspects of his behavior and development are so, so off that I’d have to be in complete denial to tell myself he’s okay and his issues will pass.

I remember the time in the grocery store when my son began rummaging through a pocketbook slung across a woman’s shoulder. I could have died from embarrassment. My son has a perfectly normal — even beautiful — face, and nothing about him suggests that he has severe social and behavioral issues. The woman must have thought I simply neglected to raise him properly. Unless she has a kid like this, too. Who knows?

Officially, Tzvi has been diagnosed with ADHD, as well as sensory processing disorder (SPD) which means his brain doesn’t process sensory input the way typical children do. He goes for OT once a week, and somebody in school works with him daily to give him the sensory input he craves. Everybody is in agreement over that aspect of his life, since I have the proof, black on white.

Well, almost everybody. Some family members, especially the elders, still tell me there’s nothing wrong with him, and that in their times, there were no fancy names or therapies for a child who was simply a bit more active.

A bit more active… I wonder if they’d change their mind if they were wakened at 5:34 a.m. a few days in a row.

One day, I met my aunt in the street, and she told me she’d had a good laugh when she recognized my number in an ad seeking a carer for a boy with mild special needs in day camp.

“Tzviki’s adorable! He doesn’t need a carer just because he’s a boy. That’s what boys are all about! But how should you know? You grew up with only sisters, and he’s your only son.”

I stayed silent. I have nothing to say to people who know it all.

So I’ve stopped talking about my son. I’ve stopped explaining myself to people who can’t possibly understand. I’ve stopped exposing him to situations that will have everyone telling me what is wrong or right with him. I’ve stopped accepting invitations to eat out with the kids, and I’ve stopped taking them to visit my grandparents. I prefer to go just with my husband, and keep the conversation safely away from my children, especially my son.

People tell me all he needs is a brother. As if I can help the fact that he’s an only son among his sisters. And as if a brother would solve his problems, calm his hyperactivity, and provide him with sensory input. But they seem pretty sure about what they’re saying, so maybe I’m the stupid one here. I don’t know. Maybe the answer does lie in me meriting another son.

Seriously, though, I think a mother knows. As a mother who’s been with him to countless evaluations and therapy sessions, I know that some simple attention, ignoring, or allowing him to “let off steam” is not the solution. I wish it were so simple.

When I first raised my concerns with the school, I heard through the grapevine that the special-ed coordinator was sure all I wanted was money. He assumed that by claiming that my son has “issues,” I’d qualify for government benefits and laugh all the way to the bank. Now he knows that every penny I receive in disability benefits (and then some) goes toward my son’s costly therapies. He apologized to me for not taking me seriously in the beginning. He thought I was just another one of “those mothers.”

I wished I could tell him that I doubt a single one of “those mothers” has any intention other than to help her child succeed and reach his full potential. Nobody in her right mind seeks to heap issues onto a child who has none. But I didn’t dare say this; how could I argue with a professional? After all, he’s the expert. I’m only a mother, and I only have one son.

So next time you see me with my son, who’s clearly being disobedient, or doing a little dance on the sidewalk, try not to judge me. When you spy my son having a tantrum in the supermarket, when he’s too old to be kicking and screaming, please don’t jump to conclusions. When you wonder why I find it so hard to manage when so many others with “real” special-needs kids have it so much harder, please know that you don’t know anything about him, or us.

If you haven’t been awakened at dawn this morning, if you haven’t witnessed him annoying his siblings nonstop, if you haven’t watched him fling his supper plate in frustration, or fling himself off the top of the bunk bed, then please don’t say anything.

Just remember that I’m privileged to be his mother — and with this privilege hopefully comes the knowledge and understanding necessary to raise him. 

Do say:

“You’re his mother, I’m sure you understand him best. I believe you’ve done your research and are doing the best you can for him.”

“Tzviki has so many strengths, I’m sure he’ll find creative ways to use them.”

Don’t say:

“My sister-in-law had a child just like yours, and in the end he grew up to be ‘normal.’ ”

“Stop making him more special needs than he is!”

The nicest thing anyone ever said to me:

“I’m so impressed how accepting and open you are about your son’s condition. If only more parents were like you, the children would do so much better and achieve so much more.”

You probably never realized that:

The hardest part of raising my son is that he looks so utterly “normal.” People comment, judge, and criticize.

When you invite my son for a Shabbos meal, or take him to the park for supper, you’ve given the whole family a much-needed break.

A child like Tzviki wreaks havoc on every single member of the family, and giving extra attention to a sibling is so very important and appreciated.

It means so much to us when Tzviki’s invited out, even if it’s just for an hour or two.

All those fancy letters after my son’s name actually mean something — and we live with the implications every day.

I sometimes wonder if:

It would have been easier if he were diagnosed at birth. We would’ve dropped the bombshell then and be done with it. With a diagnosis that comes in dribs and drabs, we’re left with a mother-in-law in denial, a neighbor who thinks you’re overreacting, and a tante who’s just plain clueless.

People would do more for their children if they weren’t always side-tracked with worries about what others will say and shidduchim. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 610)