Diagnosis by Poem
By Tracy Mishkin
As we unpack, he tears up the boxes,
calling himself Godzilla. He won’t eat
at the new table. In the car, he asks again
and again the street names, trying to learn
the way home. He begins to scratch
his leg. Fish sticks every night for dinner.
The tiny space between the two doors
of the school bathroom unnerves him.
The rough patch on his elbow matches
his leg. At circle time he walks away
and finds a piece of lint. He says
he doesn’t need to pee when he wakes up
and pushes the girl who keeps coloring
when the teacher says to stop. He peels
and eats the scabs like a new kind of candy.
At Halloween, he digs a spoon into the pumpkin,
its face an open mouth, a scream.
I wrote “Relocation” in 2002, around the time my son was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The vivid details in the poem were drawn from his experiences in kindergarten at a school that was not a good fit for him. In the middle of first grade, we moved him to a Montessori school, and he stayed in Montessori-style education until he started high school. When I showed this poem to friends and fellow teachers thirteen years ago, they often asked whether the child depicted in the poem had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. That made me feel uncomfortable because that’s not the point of the poem, nor do I really appreciate laypeople adding their two cents to my son’s diagnosis after reading a seventeen-line poem. It’s like when people read Death of a Salesman and sum it up as “Willy Loman had Alzheimer’s.” The play is so much more than that, just as my poem and my child are. (Actually, I’d like to discuss Death of a Salesman through the lens of ADHD, but that is another essay.) My son has benefited from caring teachers and therapists, as well as a helpful new medication. He is a 2015 graduate of Herron High School and will be attending the College Internship Program for student with Asperger’s and Learning Disabilities at Indiana University this summer and “relocating” to Ball State University in the fall.
About the Author
Tracy Mishkin is an MFA student in Creative Writing at Butler University. Her chapbook, I Almost Didn’t Make It to McDonald’s, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Thirteen years ago, she left a tenured position in academia to return to her hometown, Indianapolis, to ensure her son Noah could find an appropriate education. Currently, she resolves health insurance problems at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.