Christina Teague barely had time to react as her son, Will, lunged for the door of her car full of children, trying to wrench it open while yelling frantically, “I’ve got to get out!” Teague managed to pull to the side of the winding country road near their Charlottesville home as Will, nearly 8, leapt out of the car.

“He kept saying, ‘The car smells funny,’ and refused to get back in,” Teague recalled, astonished that her normally self-possessed second-grader would fall apart in front of his little sister and her friends, who stared, goggle-eyed, from the back seat. When Teague’s efforts at reassurance failed, she called her husband, who left work. After an hour, Will’s father managed to coax their son into his car, and they drove home.

That November 2007 episode was the first of Will’s bizarre and inexplicable meltdowns; it would not be the last. For the next 16 months specialists in three states offered various explanations for why Will had suddenly morphed from a sociable, well-adjusted kid into a fearful boy so beset by crippling obsessions that he refused to sleep alone, go to school or even play with the family dog. “We went from having a fun-loving, independent 8-year-old to a child who was more like a 2- or 3-year-old,” his mother recalled.

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