David’s Story

David’s Story

“David, lunch is in the kitchen.” He was still in bed and it was going on 1:00 p.m., Saturday, February 19, 2011. No response, not even a budge. I walked closer to the bed and beckoned with a little more punctuation, “David!” His eyes did not even twitch. I leaned down and gently nudged him on the shoulder to arouse him from his deep sleep.

In the back of my mind, I was thinking to myself, “He must have stayed up really late last night.” But there was still no response, no movement, but he was breathing. My first instinct was a flash of grave concern, but

then I talked myself into thinking that maybe he was just faking it to not get up.

 

This was a reasonable thought since David’s tendency as he had gotten older (into his teens), was to enjoy sleep more. We noticed this on weekends, but we related it to him staying up late with friends or watching movies. From our perspective as parents, David was never any trouble, he made good grades, and he did what we asked of him; so ‘sleeping in’ was not that big of a deal.

David’s teenage years arrived with one teenager already living in the house, his brother Mitchell who is 4 years older just shy of 2 weeks (and his sister Katherine who is 6 years younger than David.) Therefore, we were somewhat seasoned parents, we thought. At times, Robert would say, “I worry about my relationship with David. I don’t feel that close to him, so I am scared that as he gets older and potentially goes down a hard trail, I won’t be able to talk to him and reach him.”

When Robert would say this, I can remember my thoughts being…”I am not that worried. David is a good kid who won’t go down a hard road. Besides, I can talk to him.” When I would talk to David about his choices, I could always know that we had connected and gained an understanding with each other when we would have eye to eye contact with a smile. He would not offer any verbal affirmation that he had understood. I really never thought about it until now. This was our connection. At times, I would be frustrated that I may not have gotten through to him, but he would share his thoughts to some extent; and usually his defenses were purely logical and hard to argue. David grew up with a very natural bend toward truth. Since the time that he was very young, I inherently knew this about him. I had never distinguished this fact about him in any way other than just “knowing David”.

The best way I know how to relive and tell David’s story is to reflect back on my “knowing David” prior to February 19, 2011, the day I was describing earlier. It is very relevant why I want to take you back to the beginning of our journey with David, you will see…

David Lee Rea was born June 7, 1996. David was an easy‐going baby who smiled a lot and cried very seldom. As already mentioned, David was born in the middle of Mitchell Paul (4 years older) and Katherine Jean (6 years younger). Reading back on my journaling when David was a baby, I wrote, “You were once again voted the best baby award”. David was a very content, happy baby and toddler. As each of my kids have grown up, I have kept a journal written to each of them describing to them what was going on in their life at that time, like milestones and things to remember. I journaled quite a bit about how happy David was as a baby and youngster, and how much he made us all laugh a lot. Everywhere we went, people would comment on what a good baby he was and how happy he was all the time.

David then grew into a romping toddler we called “Crash, Boom, Bam” because he would go full‐speed at all times with bumps and bruises not slowing him down whatsoever. There would be times that we would be convinced that a hard fall or bonk on the head would slow him down. But to our surprise, he would keep going unphased by the definite pain that had to be present. We never identified that this high tolerance for pain was a problem or a symptom of something that needed to be addressed. We just knew this fact about David, that he could withstand pain…like the time that he had strep throat, but never complained once. He could be very sick and we would never know it unless we were looking for other possible signs. His nature was easy going and never to complain.

David went to preschool, but could have lived without it if it had been left up to him. This was due to him being such a home body. Home is where he thrived. He loved being at home and playing with his toys. He pretended more than any child I knew. He loved to dress up as a different character every day, i.e.,Spiderman, Batman, Fireman, Men in Black, Jar Jar of Star Wars, and Army man, etc… He played make‐believe in his own world, elaborately at times. The only thing I remember ever getting on to David about was for him to clean up his messes from creating his imaginary worlds. For the most part, David preferred to play alone. He rarely initiated play dates so I would plan play dates for him. When he had a play date, he would be polite and nice; but most of the time would be doing his own thing. If the other kid wanted to join him or watch him, that was fine. He was just more inclined to be on his own. At other kids’ birthday parties, he would usually wander off from the center of the activity to be alone and do his own thing.

Over the younger years, some of David’s loves were Legos, Lincoln logs, Rescue Heroes, army men, and Hotwheels which he could play with for hours alone. It was very fascinating to observe and enter into his imaginary play world at times. He enjoyed himself a lot, never causing a problem with anybody around him. We knew David was unique. What kid is not unique? I journaled several times over the years of how brilliant Robert thought David was. We knew he was special. However, Mitchell and Katherine were just as special in our eyes in different ways. All of our kids’ differences were viewed as God’s unique design. We never identified any of their traits as an issue or a problem. Especially in light of the fact that they were happy and well‐adjusted kids living in middle America doing middle America kinda stuff.

At about 7 years old, David discovered the electronic world of video games. He became enamored (times ten) with the gaming world and became quite the pro at cracking all of the codes. All of the passion that David had ever channeled into being Spiderman was now being transmitted through his fingers into a video game’s virtual reality of Super Mario, aliens, and army heroes. If David was given the choice, he would spend most of his waking hours cracking codes. However, we encouraged other outdoor activities and friendships to add to his strong passion.

Because Robert and Mitchell were passionate hunters, David had an automatic outlet for this hobby which he participated in, but was never as passionate. He went with them to the deer camp some of the times, but not all of the times.

When he was around the hunting, he was a part of the group, but he never took a strong initiative toward the sport. He participated and performed well at whatever he aimed to achieve. He just always seemed like he could take it or leave it. I do have to say that when Robert took David and Mitchell to Namibia, Africa in 2008, I did see a light in David’s eyes when he talked about his experiences.

We exposed David to the sport of baseball at a young age (6 or 7) to discover very early that he hated the sport vehemently. According to my mom, “He hung his glove up for good after the first season”. Although Mitchell had taken to baseball and was pretty good at it, it was no disappointment to us that David did not like it. We felt that it may have something to do with his vision. At 3 years old, David had corrective eye surgery for strabismus, wandering eye. Every year since, David visited his pediatric ophthalmologist for follow‐up. He never needed more surgery, although, he did need eyeglasses beginning in 2nd grade and stronger prescriptions thereafter.

When David turned 5, we sent him to private Transitional Kindergarten for younger 5 year olds (David’s birthday was in June) and then to public Kindergarten when he turned 6. Academically, David was ready for kindergarten at 5, but emotionally and socially, we felt that he could use another year for maturing before entering his Kindergarten year. (We had also done this with Mitchell for similar reasons and had positive results.) Like I mentioned earlier, David loved being at home; so this decision also allowed him to be at home more for an extra year.

From a young age, we knew that David was academically inclined. Beginning in Kindergarten, he did all of his work independently, no assistance needed at all. I never had to prompt him or remind him to do his homework or projects. Even when I wanted to be involved and help him with schoolwork, he really did not want help. He was very determined and wanted to do his projects and all of his work on his own. I could relate to this because I was very much the same way growing up. Therefore, I kept up with his academics through talking to him and his teachers, but never once had any reason to be concerned. He seemed to make all A’s with much ease and a strong sense of self‐direction. When he was in 2nd grade, a friend of mine substituted for his class and raved to me about how David was so smart. Every year thereafter, I had at least one of his teachers remark to me casually about David’s intelligence. I was very happy for David’s sake that he was good in school. Since I liked school when I was growing up and did well academically, it did not seem unusual to me that David was so independent and adept in academics. David’s 4th grade teacher recommended him for the gifted and talented program. He agreed to join only because they no longer met after school, but they met during school hours; otherwise, he would not have done it, he said. He did not want anything interrupting his “at home” time.

At home, David liked spending an enormous amount of time in front of the videogames. Since we live in a neighborhood with a lot of kids his age, he always had at least 1 or 2 friends stop by after school for snacks and videogames. If David had been given his choice, he would have come home from school every

day to videogames. Therefore, Robert and I enforced that David had to pick one

sport that he wanted to play in order to get physical exercise. He chose football

and since the 2nd grade, football became David’s sport of choice. David was always big for his age, so this was advantageous as he got older for playing football. Year after year, we witnessed football being a positive force for David mentally, physically, and emotionally. Mitchell was passionate for football; so

David’s interest in it, too, added a stronger brotherly connection for the two of them.

David was a very fast runner. As he grew older, he became tall, lean and very strong. I would sometimes ask him if he would ever consider wanting to run the football instead of playing on the line. He always responded that he liked the line better because he could “bust some heads”. Although he had the physical ability to do whatever he wanted on the field, we knew it was his lack of desire, motivation, and/or confidence to do anything different than what was comfortable and secure to him which was the line. We never pushed this issue because we felt like it was important for him to be happy with his choice and he seemed to be very happy and content with his success in football. Therefore, we were, too.

David never wanted any attention drawn to himself. When it was time for recognition for honor roll or any of his accomplishments, he would downplay it and not want to be spotlighted. Now if it was attention for a laugh, that was different; but not for recognition or acknowledgement. He did not crave attention at all, nor was he ever competitive. As he grew older, he grew more distant toward some of his more competitive friends. It was not his nature and it bothered him that they were this way.

David was very low key and low maintenance. Never wanting anything really, no real demands. I had to make him buy new shoes and clothes. If it was up to him, he probably would have still been wearing the black New Balance teeny shoes that he wore for years that had duct tape wrapped around the toe from the flapping sole or the army jacket that he wore all of the time in the cold and heat.

By 7th grade, he still had not asked for a cell phone, but I wanted him to have one, so I could reach him when he walked home from school. So then the official teenage years ensued.

By David’s second semester of 7th grade, he had begun hanging out with a new friend from school who eventually became his best friend. This kid was very quiet and reserved, so it took us awhile to get to know him. Overnight, it seemed, David evolved into a socially‐connected, clad in cool clothes, fun‐loving, popular dude. He had a dramatic decreased interest in videogames and now was more interested in his social agenda and girls.

David still maintained his straight A academic status and his low‐maintenance countenance at home. The primary change that took place was David’s desire to have more friends around him more frequently outside of school. David was making a lot of new friends. Looking back, they really were not new friends; but just acquaintances that became better friends through more social interaction.

Therefore, on weekends, there was usually at least one, but usually up to 4 friends spending nights, hanging out, and having fun around the house. Our concerns entailed his music choices, internet activity, and the company that he was keeping…normal teenage concerns.

David was friends with the athletes, the video‐gamers, and the intellectuals because he was all of these. Conceit or ego was not a part of him. This was not a decision on his part, it was just him. He was never unkind, nor did he look down upon anyone for any reason. Although he did not talk much, he knew everything that was going on around him. He was very observant. David was brutally honest, and did not like those around him that were not the same. David liked having fun with his friends. Whether they were playing videogames, filming videos for You Tube, or just hanging out, there was always some excitement going on around them.

David was well liked by all of his peers. He was a smart, nice‐looking, popular kid who liked to have fun. He took it too far at times like the time that he put the string of firecrackers around his neck and lit them on fire for a school project video. When we discovered this incident, we talked to him about the serious danger involved. He would listen and seemingly understand. But looking back, we were never at a complete resolve about whether he may do something like this again or not. Although there was a simmering worry in the back of our minds,

David was acting like a normal teenager, right? What is normal, anyway?

…Moving right along into David’s 8th grade year. I did my internship for my teaching certification the first semester of David’s 8th grade year at a neighboring district. Therefore, I was not up at the school or in contact with my kids’ teachers as much as usual. The times that I was in contact with David’s teachers, all reports were good. There was one issue that was brought to our attention by the school involving “David’s silliness or minor inappropriateness”, when he used the title “Sexy Melissa” for his headline in a school newspaper assignment that was unpublished. This issue was discussed with him by us and the teachers and he seemingly understood.

David stated to me on a few occasions, “All of the teachers and principals want me to be this leader that I am not and I do not want to be.” David was invited to join the National Junior Honor Society, but was adamant that he did not want to take part in this. Robert and I discussed it and decided that we would not make him. We witnessed this capable kid wanting just to be a kid, but still holding down his responsibilities of being a responsible kid. He did not want his ego stroked in any way. Robert and I were trying to partner with the teachers’ efforts to bring David along the positive path for his education. We knew about some of his frustrations with teachers, but felt that he was just coming into his independence and would get through it.

Friday, February 18, 2011, 4:30 p.m., Robert and I got a call from the assistant principal at David’s school, asking us to please bring David back to the school for a discussion about an incident that had happened that day. Robert was at home,

David had just gotten home from walking from school, and I was leaving work.

Robert asked David on their way back to the school what had happened. David said he did not know what it was about. I met them at the school. First, the principal and assistant principal asked to talk to me and Robert in their office without David while he sat outside of the office. We were informed that during assembly, David had been asked to sit by a teacher due to “roughhousing” with his friends in the bleachers during the assembly. We were told, “When the assembly was over, David stood up, ripped his shirt off, ran out the gym and across the carpool traffic to the other side of the street, not responding to a teacher that yelled at him to return.”

The principals recommended that the following Monday David should be suspended from school. They felt like this incident, along with some of the other “minor infractions” by David were leading to a “negative path” that David was choosing to follow. They felt that suspending him would send the strong message to him and others that this negativity is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

They expressed to us how popular David was with all of the other kids and how they wanted to set an example. Robert and I could sense each other’s dismay over the recommended consequence. Looking into each other’s eyes, we conceded to go forward with their recommendation. Later we both agreed that

we felt that the principals had David’s best interest in mind and we would rather err on the side of trying to guide him toward the positive versus what we perceived as the alternative which was minimizing the incident and the recommended consequence.

David rode home in the truck with Robert in silence. Later that evening, we talked to David about the incident. David was quiet (as usual) and did not defend himself much at all. We explained to him again that we were redirecting a potential pattern and he seemed okay. (It was later confirmed that the more accurate account of the school incident was that when the assembly ended, David walked out of the gym, took his shirt off, and walked across the pedestrian walk in front of the carpool line as he had done every day when he walked home from school…nothing unusual.)

The next morning, February 19, 2011…

Although, I knew David may very well still be asleep due to staying up late, my intuition stirred me to do more. I walked out of David’s bedroom and yelled for

Mitchell (Robert was not home) to come back there. He walked in the room and said, “DAVID!” He walked to the bed and nudged David. Then he picked David’s limp upper body up off the bed and shook him. David was totally unresponsive.

Mitchell stood him up holding him and said, “What is wrong with you? Stand up!”

He let go and David fell. Immediately, I ran and got the phone and called 911. I was already losing my mind, I ran outside to find Katherine and her little friend. Robert was in the driveway sitting in his truck and I yelled at him that something is wrong with David. He jumped out of the truck and ran into the house. I was talking to the 911 operator begging them to get there fast. Robert and

Mitchell were with David trying to get a response. I stood by and watched with a fear that I have never felt before. “Oh God in heaven, please let my baby be okay!

Please!”

The police arrived. The police started doing a knuckle procedure on David’s chest that evoked an unconscious physical response from David, as if this was painful. I heard myself saying aloud, “Oh God, please let him be okay. Please get here fast, ya’ll have to hurry. Please!!! Katherine, get to the other room…Pray, Pray,

Pray!!!!”It truly felt like forever for the ambulance to arrive. In the midst of constant begging and pleading with God, I next found myself in the front seat of the ambulance overhearing the EMTs in the back as they were loading my baby saying, “possible OD”. This possibility would not even register with me. It was definitely something else, but what? I called my Daddy and begged for his prayers. I was overwrought with a feeling of helplessness and fear. The ambulance driver was calm and kind.

We arrived at the Mckinney Hospital ER. They unloaded David who was going in and out of a posturing position. It appeared to be a seizure of some sort. His eyes would roll in the back of his head and he would open his mouth in a state of unconsciousness and out of control. When he would do this, it took us all to try and control him and calm him and keep him contained. These episodes sporadically continued for the next several hours.

We were frantic. We did not know what to think or feel. Our minds were racing and questions were flying. “How could this be happening? Do something fast! You doctors seem to assume this is an overdose, but what if it is not. We have no reason to believe this child would overdose. Please consider something else. Time is of the essence. Brain damage is occurring as we stand here and wonder. Take control and fix this situation. Save him from further damage. Do something. Do something. Please. Please!!!!!” No quick answer was coming. Street drug overdose was ruled out. Now what? Next, we were told that Mckinney Hospital does not treat adolescents, so we will be transferred to Children’s Medical in Dallas. Distraught, Deranged, Derailed, Despair. I do not even remember riding in the ambulance from Mckinney to Dallas.

The next scene is in the intensive care of Children’s Medical with doctors coming in asking questions. David was strapped down. Every test imaginable is ordered. The spinal tap was horrifying. David was still unconscious. I have never prayed with so much intensity and earnestness. “Please Father of heaven, I will be what you want me to be. Let him live. Save him, please!” Only one of us could stay in the room which had to be me according to me. I sat in the ICU hardback chair staring at my baby hooked up with hoses and needles. “Lord, help him and bring him back to me. Please!!!!” The wee hour of approximately 4 a.m., Dr. Lee came in with a copy of an article written about a 14 year old male who overdosed on Advil. The symptoms that were described in the article were the same symptoms as David’s. This child that I was reading about had sustained organ damage and had a very long road of recovery. I thought to myself, “What is in store for David? He is alive, but what was going on? Will he be okay? Did he do this? Why did he do this? Will he ever be the same? What is going on here? God, please bring him back to me, to us. I will be a better mom, I promise. Give me another chance, please!!!!” Sunday was slow. David was stable, but not awake. The posturing spells had stopped. No damage was evident, but still the unknown hovered. I could not leave his side so I spent another silent night in the ICU hardback chair holding his hand with hope in my heart. Monday, David started waking up a little. He was not fully coherent, but a little responsive. The nurse asked him if he had taken Advil, and he nodded yes. My mind cried out, “Why?!?“ The questions floodedmy soul. “What was so bad that he would do this?”

The school principal visited with a paper that David had written 3 weeks prior in his leadership class at school. It was about a boy named John who had taken an overdose of Tylenol to end it all. We asked why we were just now hearing about this paper. Why would that teacher hold on to something like this without informing the parents, at the very least? We were told that the teacher had just gotten around to grading the papers. At that time, we did not fully disclose to the principal the unfolding facts about David because we felt that we needed to protect David’s privacy. We only wanted to do what was best for him. What was best? We did not know. Who knew? Nobody really knew. The previous 48 hours had been a rollercoaster of overwhelming feelings of fear, despair, confusion, agony, pain, helplessness, worry, and reckoning. There were no answers except that David seemed to slowly be getting better. I could not and did not leave his side. We were informed that David would be discharged from the hospital in about 2 days and would be required by state law to go directly to a behavioral health center for the follow‐up mental health evaluation. We had to choose a behavioral health facility right away to get the admittance process started. Robert and I had no prior experience or knowledge of behavioral health treatment centers. The social worker in the hospital met with us and educated us somewhat on our choices and what to expect. After some quick research and learning a little bit more, we selected the Seay Center in Plano. The day of discharge, David and I rode in the ambulance again (for hospital liability purposes) to the Seay Center. David was admitted (which is a story in itself) and our first experience with a behavioral health center was born. I do not know what I expected, but I did not expect to have to leave him…but I did have to leave him. Robert and I were distraught and drove home late that evening with Katherine asleep in the back seat. I spent the first night away from David since that gruesome day of February 19, 2011, five days prior. The next morning, Robert and I woke up to David’s phone alarm going off in the wee hours and it was an eerie song playing very softly. We listened to the words more carefully, and it was a song about suicide.

David went through the Seay Center process like a model student. He got all of his points and did all of the right things to earn his way out of there. The main thing he said was that “now that he could talk to us, he was okay.” He expressed that at school he was tired of the teachers and principals coming down on him about being a leader and the type of student that they thought he should be. He wanted them to leave him alone. The counselors and psychiatrist all agreed that he seemed to be much better. He was not diagnosed with anything. They said that sometimes in adolescence there can be an isolated incidence of despair that can cause a teenager to make a “rash” decision of hurting themselves or taking their own life. David signed a contract that if he ever had these feelings again, he would have a list of 5 people to contact before he would take any action to harm himself. We were relieved and worried and the same time. Robert and I had always known that David was a sensitive child. Mitchell had commented at times “Why do ya’ll handle David with kid gloves?” We inherently knew he was different, but aren’t all kids different? At this point, though, our world stopped. We reckoned with everything in our realm of awareness to try and get a handle on what was going with him. We dug deep to understand David, ourselves, our family, our future. In the crisis center, we began the journey of our family digging deeper introspectively than ever before. We began a process of trying to truly understand each other and pull together as a family. We knew that we had been granted a God‐given miracle to have David with us and healthy. We had a new appreciation for our lives. Seeking counsel and healing continued week after week, then every two weeks, sometimes 3 weeks between individual and/or family counseling sessions. Any and all concerns were discussed in the counseling sessions, but none seemed to be life‐threatening. They all seemed to be put in the perspective and category of dealing with adolescence. We were in consistent discussion with David as to his status within himself. We watched him closely and monitored his every move and mood. He was always agreeable and open to see the therapist, reassuring all of us that he was okay.

David finished his 8th grade year strong and happy. Upon our request, the teachers and administration had let up on their leadership expectations of David. We observed David being the happiest when he had his friends around, so we allowed friends as much as possible. Summer came and David was participating in football workouts in the mornings. He had mentioned that he would not be able to go and help move Mitchell to Colorado for college in August due to the fact that he did not want to miss football workouts. But by early August, David’s desires had changed. David did not want to get up and go to the football workouts. We did not understand and he could not communicate what was going on with him. He expressed that he was having the thoughts of hurting himself again. David had kept his end of the contract…he told somebody that he wanted to hurt himself and Robert commended him for that. Based on the counselor’s advice and David’s desire, we immediately admitted him back into the Seay Center. David had a suicide plan that he shared with the professional staff at Seay Center who told us about it. His plan was nothing like his attempt in February. He was diagnosed with depression and put on a low dosage of antidepressant within the first 2 days. We met with David in the crisis center daily. David was despondent. He would say he did not know what was wrong. He did not know what he wanted. He did not even know if he wanted to come home or not. We met with the psychiatrist and counselor. We were distraught and perplexed. How could this be? What is wrong? We tried to think of everything under the sun that could be going on with our child. Our minds were nonstop thinking and trying to understand. The doctor and counselor were perplexed. It was very clear that they did not know any more than we did. We were told that our next step may need to be long‐term residential treatment since Seay Center is only a crisis stabilization center and we may need longer term care. We were willing to do whatever was needed. We just needed someone to help us in knowing what was needed. Depression? Is that the only answer here? But why is he so depressed? I kept going over and over in my head all that had been going on with David and the conversations with Robert, and the psychiatrist and the counselors. “David is suicidal, but he does not know why. David’s a brilliant wonderful kid who is struggling mentally for reasons we cannot see apparently. Why is he so depressed? Is it something we have done or not done? What can we do to make it better? We will do whatever it takes to help him. David has always been somewhat quirky and had his own way about things. He is very smart and takes care of his business. He never has been quite comfortable around people. He is somewhat awkward. He never has been comfortable looking you in the eye.

David was kind of a loner growing up, playing by himself a lot. David has never been any trouble. He does not want to be the center of attention, but yet does silly things to get a laugh. Has he got something like autism? What is Asperger’s and how does it affect a kid? This proved to be an epic question soon thereafter. The agony of not knowing what was going on and the pain and anguish of being scared for our child was almost unbearable. We were hanging on by a thread, when the epic question, “What is Asperger’s?” kept looming in my mind. While doing research for long‐term treatment facilities to possibly send David, I lookedinto Asperger’s. I began pouring over information on the internet, not getting up away from the computer for hours; googling, reading printing, highlighting, learning more and more and more. The fog was clearing. Oh my gosh, we did not know. Nobody knew! David is Asperger’s without a shadow of a doubt. When this child kept saying that he did not know what was wrong, it was because he truly did not know, just as we did not know and nobody around us knew. Robert came home and I showed him all that I had learned. He was excitedly relieved and anxious to learn how soon we could tell David. At this point, David was into his 6th day at Seay Center. The revelation of Asperger’s was hard to sit on for long since each day had brought no answers or relief. It was decided that Robert and Mitchell would go and visit David and tell him the good news with printed internet evidence to support it. Robert said that David instantly smiled and looked relieved. Robert, hit him on the knee and said, “Congratulations, son, you have Asperger’s.” The next morning when I visited with David, he said, “Mama, I’m just glad to know that I am not going crazy.” He was no longer despondent. He was openly happy and relieved. We all took a deep breath. Finally, we could breathe again. David was discharged 2 days later with the required appointments scheduled for psychological testing, psychiatry, and counseling. It was very interesting to witness how delicately the professional staff at the crisis center dealt with the revelation of Asperger’s for David. A light bulb effect was definitely in the air. Disappointedly, this was not the case for David’s counselor that he had been seeing since February who begged to differ with the insightful reality of David’s Asperger’s.

Everything had been put on hold with Mitchell’s plans for moving to college during the crisis with David. Now that David was out of the crisis center, he wanted to go with Mitchell and help move him to Colorado Springs as a family versus one of us, me or Robert, staying home with him for football 2 a‐days. David said that he did not even know if he wanted to play football. At this point, football was the least of all of our worries. According to the counselor’s advice, we needed to move forward with Mitchell’s college plans in order “not to put one child’s life on hold for another, if possible.” We needed to move forward with getting Mitchell moved and set up. In the meantime, I was getting my hands onlots of information about Asperger’s. Two books that David and I were reading were “Look Me In The Eye” by John Elder Robison and “Asperger Syndrome” by Tony Atwood. We had discussions about some of David’s symptoms growing up. David seemed open and interested in learning about Asperger’s. I viewed it like if it was cancer, we would need to get the individual prognosis to know how to proceed forward for that particular case of cancer…likening David’s Asperger’s to cancer. I was awaiting David’s full psychological evaluation (which we had gotten underway after leaving the Seay Center) before knowing exactly how to proceed with the intervention for the Asperger’s. In the meantime, the depression was the more presenting issue to stave off suicide, we thought. The Colorado trip proved to be a wonderful family trip that we all enjoyed immensely. Thank you, God, for this gift.

We returned to Texas on Saturday, August 19, 2011 and school started for David and Katherine on that Monday August 21. This was David’s first day of high school, he was a freshman. I met with David’s football coach briefly on Sunday, August 20, about David’s history, the current status of David’s situation, and his returning to practice on Monday. His coach was on board with easing David back into the groove of things. We felt that football had always been such a positive experience for David that it might be a huge negative for him to sit out.

We had seen David excel at football and had seen it give him such a strong sense of accomplishment. We witnessed the physical and social benefits that he had received from being a part of the team. The coaches and his teammates encouraged him to play. The psychologist that was in the process of diagnosing David’s Asperger’s had encouraged physical and social interaction for David’s depression. We felt like football would be the best avenue for this physical and social interaction. Our fear was that if we sat back and did not encourage this for him, that he would withdraw more and spiral downward. Our fear came true in spite of or due to what we encouraged. School started Monday, August 21, 2011 for David. His coach talked to him and encouraged him to come back to football. David showed up. From that time, one day would be good and David would seem okay. The next David may not want to get up and go to school and/or may not want to go to football. Robert and I were in continual conversation with the coaches and the school administrators regarding the status with David. We explained to them that David was in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger’s and was struggling with depression.

The coaches and Administration were on the same page with us regarding our concern for David. We felt like progress was under way and answers were on the horizon. On September 1, 2011 David played in the Junior Varsity football game and played the entire game on offense and defense. He did very well it was evident with his smile and outward exhilaration that he enjoyed himself. I asked him, “Are you glad you played?” He replied with a nod.

Robert and David went to the ranch the weekend of September 3‐5, 2011. David relaxed and retreated. They also worked hard on setting up deer stands leaving blisters on David’s strong hands. (We later learned that David’s mind was apparently still confused and his thinking was not clear because he told his good friend in a text on Tuesday, September 6, 2011 that he could not concentrate and that he could not do his school work.)

September 8, 2011 approximately 8:10 a.m., I came to the back door of our home from taking Katherine to school. Robert met me at the door as I opened it. He said, “He did it.” My mind raced to, “he’s kidding me, no he would not kid about that. Oh God, no!!!!!!!! David, please, David!!!!!”

Nothing will ever be the same.

My mind won’t stop.

When did he get the gun? Did he hide it? Where? How long? Why? Was there no hope? Why? How long had he thought about it? Was what Katherine said true? (“He thought there was no better time than now.”) He was so pure! How many things had we done so wrong? Was it the medicine? He had only been on the medicine a short time. What was so bad that he did not want to go on? How am I going to keep going? What is this going to do to us all, to Robert, to Mitchell, to Katherine? Why? I know he is free, but that does not mean that we could not have helped him be free down here. If we had only known much more a lot sooner, we could have helped him more. If we had let him lie in the bed and do nothing for awhile, would that have been better…at least until we could get more insight and help. Should we have done long‐term residential treatment? David seemed so relieved and okay once he knew about Asperger’s. We had the “What” in the equation, just not the “How” yet. Lord, how can we make any sense of it?

With all of the questions at bay, I hope and pray that David’s story will help and/or save a life. At the beginning of this, I wrote about “knowing David” before February 19, 2011. Really, I should distinguish between “knowing David” before that day in August 2011 when we had the God‐given revelation about David being Asperger’s. It was at this time that finally, a lens was put over our vision to see David in a way like never before. Even after the miracle happened in February 2011 and David survived his first attempt to end his life, none of us still truly understood what was going on with David. That includes David, us, the school professionals, the medical professionals, the counselors and therapists, no one involved truly understood and then it was too late. We were just beginning to understand more and to try and uncover the unanswered questions. But it was too late in David’s case, but maybe not in someone else’s case. Since September 8, 2011, I have continued and will continue to learn more and more about Asperger’s. Today I reflect on “knowing David” along with the truth that I now know…

From the time David was 18 months old, we noticed that he would not look you in the eye. By the time he was 3 years old, he was diagnosed with strabismus, wandering eye, and had to have corrective surgery. We always felt that he did not look you square in the eye maybe because of the strabismus. The truth that I now know is that lack of eye contact is one of the primary attributes for Asperger’s. Because of the way their brain functions, eye contact over stimulates a part of the brain to the point that it can be physically painful to have eye contact. Also, it is very prevalent in Asperger kids to have eyesight issues. David was a cuddler until he was about 5 or 6 years old. At which time, he started becoming less and less affectionate. I passed it off that since I had Katherine when David was 6 years old, he became less affectionate. The truth that I now know is that Asperger kids are less and less affectionate as they get older. It is prevalent in Asperger kids to be highly sensitive to touch. “People with Asperger Syndrome often have to deal with extreme sensitivities to everyday sights, sounds, smells and touch” according to www.yourlittleprofessor.com, a credible resource for learning about Asperger’s.

David was brutally honest and took things very literal. When he was 3, he was asked why he did not raise his hand to want to go to heaven one day in Sunday school. He said, “Me got to go to college first”. When he was 4 I asked him if he would want to have another baby in the house and he said, “No, I want to keep Mitchell.” When he was 14, I said something about one of his friends, assuming that he would know not to share what I had said with his friend. I assumed wrong because he told his friend. When I discussed it with David later, I could sense and know that David had meant no ill will in this matter. He truly did not get the necessity of not sharing certain information with others. The truth that I now know is that Asperger kids are fiercely loyal to friends and family and brutally honest with others. They are just this way without a conscience decision being made about it.

I mentioned earlier about David’s high tolerance of pain. One time he broke his foot on the football field, and walked off the field, and never shed a tear. The truth that I now know that an attribute of Asperger’s is a high tolerance of pain. “Hyposensitivity can cause Aspies (as they are sometimes referred to) not to feel or report pain. They may not react to temperatures.”

I mentioned earlier how David hated baseball. The truth that I now know is that baseball comes hard for Asperger kids because of the hand, eye coordination.

Also, rollerblading and riding a bike can be a challenge for Asperger kids.

According to www.rightdiagnosis.com, “The symptoms of Asperger syndrome can vary from person to person…Other symptoms of Asperger syndrome can include delayed or poor development of motor skills, such as riding a bicycle or hitting a baseball.”

David’s intensity in playing with his toys and videogames, his vivid imagination and ability to draw and create always amazed us. The truth that I now know is that Asperger’s have a strong tendency to obsess and/or intensely focus on things of interest to them. They are very creative and often are very good artists. From the time David was reading at age 5, he read ferociously until he was a teenager. When he was in 4th grade, he was reading books on a high school level.

He loved historical fiction. He would read 2 to 3 adult‐size books a week. I took him to the Mckinney library every week. The truth that I now know is that a lot of Asperger kids have exceptionally high IQ’s. Per www.rightdiagnosis.com, “Children and adults with Asperger syndrome often exhibit an overly passionate, obsessive interest in a particular object or topic. They often become well versed in every detail of a particular topic and will talk about little else with others. They frequently are “walking encyclopedias” on the topic, and have normal or above average intelligence and vocabularies. However, they are often incapable of participating in the give and take of a normal conversation or talk that covers a variety of topics or “small talk”. Over the years, David was in plenty of social situations. Robert had taught him how to shake someone’s hand when you meet them and look them in the eye.

We always tried to teach our kids social niceties. We had noticed that even at age 15, David still seemed socially awkward and the niceties did not come very natural to him. The truth that I now know is that Asperger kids are socially awkward and they do not “get” the social niceties in society because of what is called “mind blindness” as a result of Asperger’s and how the brain functions. They think completely different than neurotypicals (which is what non‐Asperger people are called.) According to www.myaspergerchild.com, “Mind‐blindness is essentially the opposite of empathy and can be described as “an inability to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of another person. Generally speaking, children with mind‐blindness are delayed in developing a “theory of mind,” which normally allows developing children to “put themselves into someone else’sshoes” (i.e., to imagine the thoughts and feelings of others). Thus, kids with Aspergers often cannot conceptualize, understand, or predict emotional states in other people. Asperger children and teens report a feeling of being unwillingly detached from the world around them. The complexity and inconsistency of the social world can pose an extreme challenge for Asperger children and teens.”

I mentioned how in 7th grade, David met a new friend and it seemingly overnight became more interested in his social agenda and was more “style” conscience. The truth I now know is “Some research shows that the more time an Aspie spends socializing, the happier he is. Aspies can and do form friendships. When they do, research shows that even one friendship will speed up their entire social development.” By the time a kid reaches teenage years, there is a whole myriad of issues for him to tackle in growing up. For instance, take a teenage kid that has undiagnosed Asperger’s and let him enter puberty. His teenage issues would be complicated even more because of the severe lack of understanding that he has about himself already, along with all of those around him not understanding him. Chances are that he has always inherently known that he does not “fit in” and the confusion and oppression on the inside has just built up over the years. The truth that I now know is that transitions and change are traumatic and very hard on Asperger kids. When an Asperger kid is facing a transition or change like David was for high school, it is recommended by Tony Attwood (the world renowned Asperger’s expert) that a mentor or parent “walk through the transitions and changes at least a dozen times to help get the Asperger child comfortable with the change.”

For instance, as a freshman, David was going into a new school building, with new students, new teachers, new coaches, new expectations, new routines, and with a lot of unknowns to worry about. We had no idea how traumatic this transition was to David. We felt like we were helping him stay alive by making him go to school every day and face what he needed to do. I kept telling him “We are going to get through this. Just keep doing what you need to do and we are going to figure it all out in time.” We did not have “time” and we did not know it. “I should have known” is what I cannot stop telling myself. I hope that someone else may know before it is too late! What David needed was true understanding longbefore this point. At that very point in time on September 8, 2011, David needed a respite, a break from everything in front of him. The hopelessness had already set in and his depression was deep.

David was 15 years old for 3 months. He loved his family, and he loved his friends to whom he was fearlessly loyal. David was a joy to us and all of those who knew him. The truth that I now know is that Asperger kids are very special and very loyal to their family and friends. Because of their frustrations in life, “Suicide is not a unique path that is taken by them”, according to Tony Attwood.

According to www.emedicine.medscape.com, “An increased risk of suicide is observed in persons with Asperger syndrome. Asperger syndrome is probably undiagnosed in many suicide cases because of the dearth of awareness of the condition’s existence and the ineffective and unreliable tools used to identify it. Therefore, people with Asperger syndrome who commit suicide are probably reported as having other or undiagnosed psychiatric problems. In cases of unexpected suicide, Asperger syndrome is a strong possibility.” The truth that I now know according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that “Asperger syndrome is part of a group of developmental disabilities called Autism Spectrum disorders (ASDs) that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. CDC estimates that about 1 in 88 children (with 4 times more prevalence in boys) have been identified with an ASD. CDC is working to find out how many children have ASDs, discover the risk factors, and raise awareness of the signs. People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently than other people. ASDs are “spectrum disorders.” That means ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and exact nature of the symptoms.”

David’s differences appeared mild to us, but his struggles on the inside were severe. We did not know how severe. Although David is no longer present in the physical realm, I believe that his spirit is very much alive. I believe that he wants us to carry the message to raise awareness about Asperger’s. David wants people to understand themselves and others much more. The only way that our family can make any sense of this journey here on earth is to reach out and possibly help another family by sharing David’s story.

You may go to David’s website at www.dlraaf.org to learn more about Asperger’s and to follow our efforts and successes in bringing more awareness and education on behalf of David’s precious life.

Thank you dearly!

Kay, Robert, Mitchell and Katherine Rea