The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Sherine Elise Gilmour

Sad Animals I

                                                                 Said the Kangaroo, ‘I’m ready ...
                                                                 But to balance me well, dear Duck, sit steady...
                                                                 So away they went with a hop and a bound,
                                                                 And they hopped the whole world three times round;
                                                                 And who so happy,—O who,
                                                                 As the Duck and the Kangaroo?
                                                                 —Edward Lear



I call 311 and am transferred to the city’s Early Intervention offices. I need an autism evaluation

for my son. I am informed that all city autism evaluations must occur within 30 days of the call or

else our file will be eradicated from the city’s computer system. The first evaluator entered our

home, asked you to walk up and down our stairs for twenty minutes.

            Physical Therapist: “I don’t see any gross motor problems. Could it be he’s

             just lazy?”

            Occupational Therapist: “Sure he has serious problems, but he won’t get any

             services. What do you want me to do?

One hour, two. Gross motor, fine motor, speech. Physical therapist, occupational therapist.

Psychological evaluations and IQ tests. Different days, different times. The special education

specialist took over three hours, and each time you turned your head away, she pointed her pen

tip at you and clucked.

            Evaluator Question #1: “Are there problems in the family? Between you and

             your spouse?”

            Evaluator Question #2: “Any history of drug abuse?”

There’s a math, a sanity to the insanity. Each child is evaluated based on five categories of

functioning. If a child is 2/3 delayed in one category, the child will receive services. If a child is

1/3 delayed in two or more areas of functioning, a child will receive services. An evaluator

shows us a pie chart.

We receive automated voicemail messages: “Be available for evaluator between the hours of

noon and 5 pm on Saturday.” We return home, rushed, with unused pails from the beach. We

skip birthday parties. We try to occupy you for hours in the tiny living room of our Brooklyn

apartment. We wait for the doorbell throughout July, Saturdays gone to nothing.

            Evaluator Question #3, directed to my husband: “Would you say your wife is

             a cold mother?”

            Evaluator Question #4, directed to me: “Would you say you coddled
            your child? Perhaps your attachment suppressed his developmental growth.”

They used words like “deficient,” “maladaptive.” They wrote down everything we said. They

wrote down nothing. They used computers, iPads, legal pads. They scribbled with broken

pencils dug out from the bottom of Kmart bags. They brought intimidating briefcases with tests,

timers, electric buzzers. They had strange dice covered in colors and dots, which they asked

you to roll across our living room rug. They sent us a 60-page report filled with real facts about

you, mixed with incorrect details they’d copied and pasted about other people’s children …

            Child is a two-year old male. Child speaks multiple languages. Child is

             bilingual in Spanish. Child speaks Russian and will require a special city-

             funded Russian aide in future classrooms. Child is allergic to peanuts. Child is

             unwilling to brush teeth. Child has never hugged mother voluntarily.

I learned to cry on cue in order to insure you would receive the services you needed. I learned

to gauge whether to use “educated language,” for fear of offending the ego of the evaluator. It

does not seem to help that I am a licensed therapist.

Your father and I learned to emphasize our concerns and not your successes. We had to

discuss the instances and anecdotes that might possibly indicate-who knows-a haphazard

chance of something: autism, ADHD, sensory processing, OCD, ADHD. Because otherwise

you would receive nothing—my boy, my beautiful son with lips and heart.

            Evaluator Question #5, “Is he always this emotional?” and wrote something

             down when you cried and ran to my arms.

            Evaluator Question #6, “Does he ever show any attachment?”

            Evaluator Question #7, “Do you think he would care if you left the room? Are

             you sure? How do you know?”

You sat there on our rug and heard it all.




SHERINE ELISE GILMOUR graduated with an M.F.A. in Poetry from New York University. She was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming from Green Mountains Review, Many Mountains Moving, Oxford University Press, River Styx, So To Speak, and other publications.



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