Since the shooting of six year old children at an elementary school in the US, I’ve been wanting to write a blog on why you shouldn’t point fingers at Autism or mental illness as an explanation for such things. Such things usually have an explanation however I doubt that explanation can ever be reduced to one or two words.
The Huffington Post, in it’s not so infinite wisdom, decided to publish a piece by some twat in relation to her own son. There are reports that this particular piece has been fabricated, and that may be true, however it is all too real for some (many?) kids… The piece is meant to express the trouble that one mother has with her son however to me, it has the exact opposite effect.
When people write about such things, it is usually obvious where they are coming from by looking at the words they use. The way they express themselves. I can’t read faces all the time, but I can read words.
Here is the article, with comments from me…
Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.
“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
(Right away we can see that this mum has a certain flair for words, and a penchant for dramatisation. When I am fighting with my kids, the last thing I notice is what their eyes are doing.)
“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”
“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”
(If that is what they told him, then let it go. For fucks sake, it is a pair of pants. Choose your battles. And most of all, until there is evidence otherwise, believe your son. It’s not exactly out of the realm of possibility that someone did tell him that navy blue pants were ok.)
“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”
(Yes, of course HER tone was affable and reasonable. Of course SHE is doing nothing wrong here. Give me a bucket.)
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
(Is he mentally ill though? Or is he just reacting to something in a totally normal way? Too often, we look at people who are “difficult” are assume they have a mental illness, but how often is it that people are responding to trauma or other life events in a totally natural way and we just haven’t noticed?)
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan — they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.
That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.
(An “expensive” ambulance ride? It’s the MONEY that is important? How about “traumatic” ambulance drive? Put yourself in the shoes of a young boy who has just had his mother call the police and been forcibly removed from his home. Yes, he pulled a knife (and don’t think I don’t know what it’s like to have a knife to your throat, because I do, many times over), and yes, perhaps calling the authorities was the only option – but to think of that ride as “expensive” and not “traumatic” really does highlight how removed this mother is from what her son is going through. He is totally alone in this, whatever “this” is.)
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.
(Kids on anti-psychotics? What could possibly go wrong? Again, if he is not fitting any definitions of mental illness, then perhaps he is not mentally ill. Perhaps he is responding normally to neglect and a mother who cares not one iota for his life experience.)
At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.
(I would be shocked to learn that anyone has asked HIM what sets him off. I mean – someone “safe”, not one of the many professionals in his mothers pocket. There is no way he would be able to trust them!)
Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.
(Wow. He plays up and BAM! Sent off to a school where he is ostracised and, statistically, it’s likely that he’s abused. I can’t imagine why he would be going off the rails (assuming he is, which I’m not)!!!)
The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”
“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”
His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”
That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.
“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”
“You know where we are going,” I replied.
“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”
(Worried? This mother thinks he was “worried”? How about scared out of his fucking mind? His own mother has just told him that she hates him and can’t stand to be around him and that he is so worthless that she can just drop him off at her convenience to the local hospital.
That is what it FEELS like!
Not to mention, again, he is likely to be abused in this setting, he has probably been through it before, and … there’s just no words really – by this stage I am bawling for this poor child.)
I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”
Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.
The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork — “Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”
(Of COURSE he is hitting out – he’s scared out of his fucking mind. His mother, the one person who should be there for him always, has just rejected him, and all he wants at this point is safety. He just wants safety. A basic human need. And he knows – I mean he KNOWS – things are about to get about as dangerous as things get!)
At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.
(“A kid like this”??? What about “a mother like you”???)
For days, my son insisted that I was lying — that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”
By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.
(There is a process. Sort of similar to the stages of grieving. First there is shock, even if it’s not shocking. The one person who is supposed to be there for you has thrown you away, and you are not old enough to fully comprehend what the hell is going on. Then anger comes, birthed out of all the emotion that you have been through. That energy has to go somewhere. Then the energy is gone, burned out, and you are just sad and more than anything, you want to go back to where things were. Because it might not have been perfect, but it’s what you know, and thus, it feels safe. You just want more than anything, to feel safe.)
On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”
And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
(Oh please. Most mass murderers are fully sane. Often they have pathetic and/or abusive mothers, but that’s another blog.)
(((I removed some of her ranting because it basically gets summed up here…)))
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.
(Originally published at The Anarchist Soccer Mom.)
Parenting requires self-reflection. I am not suggesting for a moment that parents are to blame for the actions of their children, however, parenting requires self-reflection. When you blame a child for everything, you are doing something wrong. Children are not born evil. They are sometimes broken, but they are not born evil. They learn to become that way. Usually it is a response to abuse or neglect of some kind.
There is always a reason. Children are not born evil. This kid wasn’t born evil. The teens who shoot up schools are not born evil.
It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to damage a child too. If you know a five year old child with anger management issues, then look for the cause, because there will be one. Perhaps a parent is the issue, and there may be nothing you can do about that, but you can be there for the child. Be someone safe. Be someone secure. Just be there. Believe them. Trust them. Show them that they are valuable, that they matter, no matter what they do. You don’t have to like the behaviour but you always have to like the child. My sons do things I do not condone, but I never ever will call my child “a kid like this” with all of it’s negative connotations.
All parents need to self-reflect. Because children are never born evil. And the village needs to self-reflect. Because it takes a village to damage a child.