Posts Tagged ‘Newtown’

Yesterday I read a very well written article titled, “I am _____’s mother” (sorry, but I am not going to say the killer’s name). Considering she was one of the many victims, it obviously was not written by his real mother. It was written by a mother who has a son with Aspergers Syndrome and she detailed her challenges of raising her son and her experience with the mental health system.
I am hesitant to write this because of the stigma attached to all things mental health. However since this most recent shooting, I have been giving more and more thought about what I could do to help going forward. I can think of lots of things society, or government, or even you should do, but thinking of things I could do is a little more difficult. I guess I could start by being man enough to face up to any social stigma and share my own experience.
I have four daughters whom I love dearly. One of them, beginning when she was still in the crib, would seem to have extreme fits of anger that her sisters never had. At first we chalked it up to the “terrible two’s”. At four years old, we still thought she would outgrow it. Now that she is in the 4th grade, we are still hoping.
After almost harming another student and then herself, we were referred to get her checked out by a mental health professional. My first reaction was anger. How dare they suggest something could be wrong with my daughter? Next came shame… what will people think? Finally, I agreed to having her checked out. We waited for OVER a year before they could get her in. This would equate to over 10% of her life spent on a wait list just to possibly get help.
While she waited, things got worse. Her fits of rage started occurring almost daily. Anything could and did set her off. Little things like tags in her clothes or laces on her shoes would annoy her. Noises that we wouldn’t even notice would grate on her until she lost it. Unfortunately her little sister’s voice seemed to be her biggest irritant, and we became increasingly worried that she would seriously hurt her… Or worse.
My wife and I began doing our own research. Like any parents we want all of our kids to not only be productive, but also happy. This was one of the toughest things for us, as we believe every kid should be generally happy.
There was a birthday party where we purposely took her late and picked her up early. We were thrilled that she was even invited to a party and we were so hopeful of this tip that we just came across to minimize the chance of an outburst. When my wife picked our daughter up she was unusually quiet and just seemed defeated. When asked what was wrong, she replied, “I don’t think I do so good in big groups.”
Her sisters have sleepovers, play dates, and lots of friends. She can play with one friend at a time and only for short periods of time. We recently had a challenge where she didn’t want to do her writing assignment. When we looked at it closer, we realized her assignment was to “write about a time she and a friend went to the amusement park” or “what she and her friends like to do at slumber parties.” What should have been an easy, fun assignment was a sad reminder of her lack of friends.
We eventually did get in to see the mental health professional (it actually turned into a team of professionals). I didn’t know what label they were going to try to stick on her, but I knew I wasn’t a fan of labels. I was bracing for Aspergers Syndrome as she displayed all the signs according to the books I had read. After almost a 5 hour assessment, my wife and I were called in for the results. My daughter wasn’t on the Autism Spectrum. I wouldn’t have loved her one bit less if she was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome or some other form of autism, but I am just going to be honest and admit that I was very relieved to hear this news.
Why? If they said she was Autistic, had Aspergers, or even was some form of alien, what would it have changed for me? Wasn’t she the same girl before the label? We just wanted help for our daughter. I am glad to say we got it in the form of counseling and (another social stigma) medicine.
My daughter is doing much better. She still has outbursts but they are far less frequent. She is a happier person, but still has few friends. I would like to call ours a success story, but it is an on-going battle. I don’t know how bad her next outburst will be, but I know if it happens in public complete strangers will judge all of us because of it.
The tragic events in Newtown last week still leave me with the haunting question of, “what can I do?” I still don’t know the answer to that question. I do know what I won’t do anymore. I will no longer sit quietly embarrassed or ashamed of a social stigma because someone I love, or a co-worker, or an acquaintance needs professional help. For me, this includes depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and many other struggles that our society scorns. Instead, I will try to encourage, support, and love. I will be the first person to admit that it won’t be enough, but it’s a start.