Nonconformity and Freethinking Now Considered Mental Illnesses

Is nonconformity and freethinking a mental illness? According to the newest addition of the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it certainly is. The manual identifies a new mental illness called “oppositional defiant disorder” or ODD. Defined as an “ongoing pattern of disobedient, hostile and defiant behavior,” symptoms include questioning authority, negativity, defiance, argumentativeness, and being easily annoyed.


The DSM-IV is the manual used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental illnesses and, with each new edition, there are scores of new mental illnesses. Are we becoming sicker? Is it getting harder to be mentally healthy? Authors of the DSM-IV say that it’s because they’re better able to identify these illnesses today. Critics charge that it’s because they have too much time on their hands.

New mental illnesses identified by the DSM-IV include arrogance, narcissism, above-average creativity, cynicism, and antisocial behavior. In the past, these were called “personality traits,” but now they’re diseases.

And there are treatments available.

All of this is a symptom of our over-diagnosing and overmedicating culture. In the last 50 years, the DSM-IV has gone from 130 to 357 mental illnesses. A majority of these illnesses afflict children. Although the manual is an important diagnostic tool for the psychiatric industry, it has also been responsible for social changes. The rise in ADD, bipolar disorder, and depression in children has been largely because of the manual’s identifying certain behaviors as symptoms. A Washington Post article observed that, if Mozart were born today, he would be diagnosed with ADD and “medicated into barren normality.”

According to the DSM-IV, the diagnosis guidelines for identifying oppositional defiant disorder are for children, but adults can just as easily suffer from the disease. This should give any freethinking American reason for worry.

The Soviet Union used new “mental illnesses” for political repression.  People who didn’t accept the beliefs of the Communist Party developed a new type of schizophrenia. They suffered from the delusion of believing communism was wrong.  They were isolated, forcefully medicated, and put through repressive “therapy” to bring them back to sanity.

When the last edition of the DSM-IV was published, identifying the symptoms of various mental illnesses in children, there was a jump in the diagnosis and medication of children. Some states have laws that allow protective agencies to forcibly medicate, and even make it a punishable crime to withhold medication.  This paints a chilling picture for those of us who are nonconformists.

Although the authors of the manual claim no ulterior motives but simply better diagnostic practices, the labeling of freethinking and nonconformity as mental illnesses has a lot of potential for abuse. It can easily become a weapon in the arsenal of a repressive state.

Source: “Is Free Thinking A Mental Illness?,” from offthegridnews.com


Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Domestic Violence

Image result for oppositional defiant disorder

What Exactly is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD is one of the many diagnoses under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorders. This disorder manifests itself as a pattern of angry, irritable, defiant, nonaggressive yet vindictive behavior. Teens especially tend to refuse to comply with rules and restrictions.

They are nonaggressive, yet spend time planning vindictive reactions to things that annoy them. They deliberately annoy others and blame everything on someone else. For more details, please refer to the article on what is ODD.

Common Oppositional Defiant Disorder Symptoms

Here are some common symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder:

  • Failing to Accept Responsibility
  • Verbal (or physical) hostility towards others
  • Persistent refusal to comply with instructions or rules
  • Easily annoyed, angered or agitated
  • Deliberately trying to push the limits (in a bad way)
  • Stubbornness to compromise with adults or peers
  • Being deliberately aggravating towards others
  • No respect for authority
  • Lack of empathy, treating others with disdain
  • Often co-exists with other disorders like ADHD or ADD

    Meet Arthur – A Child with ODD

    Arthur - child with ODDI was first introduced to Arthur when he was twelve years old. The school contacted me as he was always complaining of being bullied when he did something wrong. He was a new student at the school and his records had no notations or indications that he had ever been diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum. After reviewing his previous school records, I researched his grades and grade level testing. He was performing at his grade level with good to average scores, yet there was no notation with regard to his conduct whether it is good or bad.

    My First Day observing ODD traits in Arthur

    I decided to attend his class as an observer. The teacher introduced me as a senior teacher looking for a class to place a teaching assistant. The class was pretty evenly split, girls and boys with a total of eighteen 12-13 year olds. Arthur’s desk was situated between a very cute blonde girl and a boy, a little smaller than he was.

    The morning was uneventful until lunch break. The class was asked to complete their work and hand it in on their way out of the classroom for lunch. I had noticed Arthur appeared to be working diligently on his paper. On his way out the door he ripped his paper, crumpled it and told the teacher that the girl next to him had written on his paper so he could not do his work. The teacher began to uncrumple the paper. Arthur snatched it off and began to eat the paper!

    The rest of the class was dismissed, yet Arthur remained steadfast in his spot in front of the teacher explaining over and over how the girl had ruined his work as he continued to chew the paper. Unfortunately, the teacher dismissed him for lunch as I sat there in utter amazement. His teacher indicated that this was quite common with Arthur. I picked up a piece of the torn paper that had fallen to the ground and on it was a quite detailed architectural drawing.

    Our First Conversation

    Later that day I spoke individually with several students asking questions about how they liked school etc. I also talked to Arthur. I asked him how he liked school – no answer and no eye contact. I tried again and he shied away muttering “what does it matter”. He did not know that I had seen his drawing so I asked him if he liked art and drawing.

    Wow, his eyes lit up, he raised his head, made eye contact and began explaining to me in detail the principles of architecture and how he was going to be an architect. It was a pleasant conversation and I let him take the lead with the conversation.

    Getting to Know Each Other

    For a week, I returned to observe his class. For Arthur, every day something occurred that was someone else’s fault. And, every day he came to me and showed me drawings he had done and how he was using a Google program called Sketch up to design a house for me. I was a bit surprised that he said he was designing a house for me. However; I did not let him know that. I told him I was honored that he would want to design a house for me. He was all smiles. Yet, when his classmates were around, his head was down and he was drawing, constantly drawing. Every notebook and book had architecturally detailed inscriptions.

    I met with the director again and we reviewed his records with a “fine tooth comb” and still found no mention of any behavior problems, no mention whatsoever of ant oppositional defiant disorder symptoms! This struck me very odd. One does not exhibit the type of behavior Arthur did without notice. I asked if the family would meet with me to discuss Arthur and they readily agreed. In fact, they made a big celebration out of a teacher coming to their home. My husband was also invited; this was to be a nice morning brunch with a discussion about Arthur and school.

    The Brunch at Arthur’s

    When we arrived the maid greeted us at the door. The house was immaculate. Arthur had a younger brother that was six years old. His mother was from Chile yet spoke impeccable English as well as German. I asked if dad was from Germany and the answer was no. He just liked the German culture and wanted his children to learn German customs and traditions. Both children and his wife were fluent in English, Spanish and German. When dad addressed me or my husband he spoke in English. When he talked to his wife or the maid he spoke Spanish. When he spoke to his sons he spoke German.

    I was beginning to get an odd uncomfortable feeling. The therapist in me was now in full mode. The boys stood at the table until everyone was seated and dad gave a “command” in German and the boys sat. The boys were not allowed to speak, that was made very clear. Mom did not speak, other than to welcome us. I noticed the younger brother had a bruise on his leg and was acting quite normal for a 6 year old. Mom reached across the table to pass a dish and I also noticed a bruise on her upper arm that was supposed to be covered with her blouse.

    The father did all the talking. He looked directly at Arthur and told him that I was there because he was tired of his misbehavior and defiance and that I would be hired to “fix the situation” or he would be sent to military school. Arthur did not respond, he kept eating as if nothing had been said. Dad said something in German, Arthur jumped up said yes dad and left the room. You could feel the fear in the air.

    Alas, Yet another case of Domestic Violence

    Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Domestic Violence

    Fig 4: Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Domestic Violence

    Instability, neglect, abuse, violence often accompanies ODD. Often children diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder have been or are in an abusive situation. The child becomes more aggressive and blames everyone else for whatever happens in their lives. This was what I believed to be causing Arthur’s problems at school. Of course, if you have an abusive situation where you feel any intervention would put the child in danger you must be very careful. It was very apparent to me there was going to be no help from the parents.

    I agreed to work with Arthur and his father made a “deal” with Arthur. If Arthur behaved at school and home, did his work, stopped complaining then dad would hire someone with architectural experience to mentor Arthur to see if architectural design was in Arthur’s future? Arthur had little reaction to what his father said other than “yes dad”, again leaving the room.

    The school year was almost over by the time I met Arthur and there was very little time for me to implement any therapy for Arthur, other than being a support system. Dad agreed to have me tutor Arthur during the summer. Arthur came to my home several days a week and the other days I went to his house. He was more at ease at my home. He was very polite, never made eye contact and often offered to help with things that were unrelated to schoolwork. Once he offered to do my dishes so I did not have to work so hard. This was coming from a teenage boy!

    Giving Him What He Likes, or Not Quite

    I incorporated architecture into his studies. His reading and grammar work was all related to architecture. He was not doing well with math and often expressed the attitude that he was going to be an architect, design and build me a house and he did not need math. I was prepared for this response. I asked him how he would figure out how many supplies were needed to build my house. His response was to delete the computer file and tear up the drawings he had done in his sketch book while running out the door. He threw himself into the swimming pool and purposely beat his head against the side of the pool until I jumped in and held him as tightly as I could.

    Arthur calmed down and we sat on the side of the pool silently for quite some time. Arthur would not make eye contact nor would he say a word. I got up and told him I was going to go change my clothes and would meet him back at his home to continue our work. He said nothing other than I will still make you a house.

    About a half hour later I returned to Arthur’s house to find him telling his mother that I threw him in the pool and made him hit his head and that his brother had deleted all his computer work. I was not surprised. What surprised me was his mother’s reaction. She sent him to the kitchen to have some ice cream, sent his younger brother to his room after reprimanding him for touching his brother’s computer and then she turned to me, eyes down and said “I am sorry Ms. Mary this is just the way it is, I know you didn’t push Arthur into the pool but this is how he acts when his brother upsets him” I had to take a deep breath as I looked into the kitchen to see Arthur laughing and pointing at me.

    Blamig it on younger sibling is a common symptom of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children

    Fig 5: Blaming it on younger sibling is a common symptom of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children

    Mom disappeared into the younger brother’s bedroom and I could hear her admonishing the young boy. Arthur laughed even louder. I walked over to Arthur kissed him on the cheek and left. I called mom later and set up a time where we could talk. Dad is only home on the weekends as his job takes him out of town weekly. Mom wanted to wait and have me talk to his Dad “because it would cause trouble if she interfered with anything to do with Arthur”.

    I am sure you can all see what was happening here. A fearful mom, beaten and abused children. Arthur with definite symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder and possibly other co-existing autism spectrum disorders all left undiagnosed. Abusive family life does not cause autism or oppositional deficit disorder, however it does enhance its effects.

    It’s Time for Action!

    I spoke to the principal at Arthur’s previous school. I told him what I thought was going on with Arthur. He stopped me in mid sentence and said “we know about the abuse”. Dad was a powerful man in town so it was never mentioned in public or school records, nor was the family approached about the signs and symptoms Arthur was showing off several autism spectrum disorders. “It would have made the family’s life worse if we had even suggested that Arthur was anything but perfect”.

    When you have an abusive situation it becomes a matter of safety for all involved. In the United States, an anonymous phone call to Child Protective Services would have prompted an immediate investigation. However, this was not in the United States, it was in a small Caribbean Island community. The culture and the fact that I, along with this family, was a foreigner in another country also made this case difficult.

    I could not walk away from this situation. I needed to find a way through therapy to help Arthur. The family was always respectful to me and encouraged me working with Arthur. For that, I am thankful as it allowed me the opportunity to work with him every day for over six months.

    Arthur was old enough to understand that things were not right. However, he believed the abuse was his fault and he had no way to cope with his own feelings. His lack of eye contact, aggression, lying, hiding, not caring about anything but drawing his architectural sketches was what I had to work with (and without any support from the family). It amazes me till this day how they even entertained the idea of having someone work with their son, especially when they cared so little.

    And the ODD Therapy Begins

    architectural sketch 3
    architectural sketch 1
    architectural sketch 2

    Fig 6: Some of these Architectural Sketched from Arthur were my crucial inlet points for ODD Therapy. Still, pretty neat stuff for a 12 year old!

    The first week we did very little scholastic work. I let him talk, he was still not making eye contact, and if he would not talk I would ask him something related to architecture that he could explain to me. Hours were spent looking at his drawings that were hidden under his mattress – sketches of buildings on fire, monsters and children being eaten alive. The more I asked, the more he talked. It was a little over a week before he started to make eye contact. I brought him a book I had with Greek and Roman Architecture in it. That was the breakthrough moment.

    He made eye contact and touched the book ever so carefully turning each page gently as he ran his hands over the drawings. The journey had begun, a door had been opened. Not only did I have to work on behavioral therapy I also had to worry about the parental response. Arthur began to look forward to my visits and waited daily at the door. He always had a new sketch to show me. We began opening up his circles of communication. He could tell me all about his drawing if I could teach him something new first.

    The Bonding has Already Begun…

    I lived within a few blocks of Arthurs home and he would now walk their dog past my house daily. He walked with his head down very quickly passed the house until I would yell out the door “Hello”. Every day I would see him in the morning and we would work on schoolwork and only then it would be time for him to draw or tell me about his thoughts or drawings.

    I decided to add in game-playing to see how he reacts to winning and losing. It was a simple game of ‘Sorry’ and he won the first two which excited him to want to play a third round. When he lost the third game, destroyed the board, ripped the cards and threw the pieces at his younger brother while running to his mom pointing at the mess and telling her that his brother had done it. Mom knew the truth however her reaction was much the same as it was months ago. Younger brother punished, Arthur unpunished and Arthur smiling at what he had “accomplished”.

    Arthur had come out of his shell, let me in to work with him, however because of his undiagnosed condition and lack of behavioral therapy at a young age, the rage would come through. Over this time span his outbursts were less and less, in fact, when this incident occurred he had been doing very well and expressing his feelings in his notebook and discussing them with me.

    Using a Journal as a Private Gateway

    Using a Private Journal - Great Tool to treat a Child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

    Fig 7: Using a Private Journal – Great Tool to treat a Child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

    The use of a private notebook or journal, allowing a child to draw or write how they honestly feel without the fear of being judged is a great tool. It opens an avenue for the child to express what is bothering him/her and provides an inlet for the therapist to take on a role of positive reinforcement, never criticize, always agree with the thoughts behind the sketches and enter into an ice-breaking conversation like, “I see, now let’s think what would happen if we did this”. The journals, notes, and drawings are their true feelings that are trapped without a way out. You, as a parent must find a way to incorporate positive into the negative.

    Arthur came to my house later that day, without his dog, and apologized for what he had done; he made eye contact and was truly apologetic, more so with a slight hug. “I don’t know what to do because everything seems to be my fault”. I called his mom, told her where Arthur was and that he was going to have a snack with my husband and I before getting back home.

    And the Breakthrough!

    I had two pamphlets on my desk on spousal and child abuse. Arthur saw them and asked if he could look through them. He studied them carefully, silently reading, looking at the pictures and scanning through my desk top to see what else was there. I had (on purpose) a page open in a therapy book about ODD. He held the brochures tightly in his left hand as he read the article in the book. He turned to me and said “All of this is me, isn’t it Ms Mary?” He had put two and two together to realize that he had an undiagnosed condition AND a horribly abusive life. He cried, the first tears I saw! He hugged me tight, the first real genuine expression of his feelings. You could feel his relief leaving his body and soul.

    “I am not a bad, terrible, crazy person as my dad says”! It was an astonishing moment and a great breakthrough for Arthur. Yet he knew as well as I did that he had to return to that environment. I decided he should come to my house for his tutoring and therapy where he could express himself freely. Mom agreed. Dad was hesitant however he finally agreed; that man needs a therapy, I tell you!

    Meeting the Grannies

    Grandma and Grandpa came to visit late in the summer, very nice fellows. These were Arthur’s maternal grandparents and they live in Chile. I continued to work with Arthur, had several interactions with the grandparents and things were progressing. I found out that his grandfather actually owned a contracting business that built homes and schools. This explained where Arthur has inherited this obsession with architecture and I was delighted to see how close he was with his grandparents.

    One evening my doorbell rang and it was Arthur’s grandparents. Grandpa did all the talking. Grandma was in tears as he spoke. Grandpa said he knew that his son in law was abusive and that he, Arthur’s dad, was diagnosed with autism when he was young. Grandpa was very open and expressed his sorrow at how his daughter stays with him and how the children were treated. He asked if I knew something that would help. You see, Arthur’s dad had approached grandpa and demanded he provide the income for Arthur to study architecture or he would send him alone to attend a military school which he also wanted the grandpa to pay for.

    I was very moved with the grandparents concern and the true regret that they were feeling for not having spoken up sooner or been more forceful in removing their daughter and grandchildren from the situation. It is unfortunate that things like this happen all too often in life.

    It indeed was a time for law to intervene. Thankfully, Arthur’s grandparents were affluent and I was able to persuade them to demand custody of the 12-year-old boy. I testified, in the capacity of a qualified medical practitioner, that Arthurs was a child with special needs and the presence of his (abusive) family is detrimental to his formative development. His father didn’t seem to complain much, nice riddance he must have thought!

    Undiagnosed, abuse, no one caring or daring to get involved, For Arthur this was the start of a new life. The grandparents were given custody, took Arthur back to Chile with them.

    Fast-forward 4 years..

    Arthur is now 16 years old and has already graduated high school. He is on a medication for his disorder and is working with his grandfather in their construction business. He designed a new house for his grandparents and is overseeing the project management along with his grandfather.

    Arthur and I Skype and email often which allows me to monitor his progress and he is always so excited to tell me how great he feels. Arthur has not seen his parents since he went to live with his grandparents, nor have I been able to have any contact with the family (for obvious reasons). His grandparents and I are very proud of him. He finished high school early with good grades and is doing something that he has a passion for. He continues with therapy to handle anger management issues, but all in all he is functioning and performing so well that I am encouraged that someday it will be Grandpa and Grandson’s business!



Rethinking Our Attitude Towards ‘Problem Children’

The estrangement of Jewish youth from the Jewish community is an issue of concern for all of us. While we differ in how that sense of belonging should be expressed, we all want our children to self-identify as members of that unique society of mutual responsibility and reliance that is the Jewish people.

For some of our children, the weakening of the Jewish bond is a consequence of our integration into a modern, open, pluralistic society. While this is true to some extent, it is far from the whole story. As much as there is “pull” from society, there is “push” as well.

Our communities, schools, synagogues, and programs are — effectively — designed to push a significant portion of our children away from the Jewish community. In our self-ascribed ethos as a particular kind of “People of the Book,” we have written out of our story young people who don’t fit the mold. In my thirty years of experience as a camp director, school principal, and practicing clinical psychologist in both Israel and the United States, I have seen the effects of this “write out” on vulnerable children from all over the globe.

Who does a narrow definition of success exclude?

In our laser focus on professional success and educational merit, we have driven a wedge between Jewish identity and the self-image of thousands of Jewish youngsters. For many of our youngsters, and young people, their natural aptitudes and strengths deviate from communal expectations.

Not every child will excel in verbal-linguistic or mathematical intelligence. We have excluded from the category of authentic “Jewishness” entire classes of lower-earning people and youngsters whose natural skills and interests diverge from Jewish convention. Our institutions have forced self-alienation on masses of young people who would otherwise be proud Jews. Families have splintered because of parental unwillingness to accept a child’s otherness.

Isn’t the Jewish story elitist from the very beginning?

The biblical story of Isaac’s children describes Jacob as the “tent-dweller” and his twin brother Esau as a hunter, a man of the field. Jacob wins out in the biblical story, becoming the successor to Abraham and Isaac. Doesn’t Esau’s loss validate that the Jewish story picks the studious and reject the rambunctious, the hunters, the impulsive offspring who will not excel in the study hall?

The biblical story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob describes thoughtless and impulsive behavior in almost textbook fashion: “And he ate, drank, arose, walked and disdained the birthright.” These five action verbs provide beautiful literary expression of the internal impulses that drove Esau right out of the Jewish story.

There could have been an alternative

The bible provides a alternative to the Esau story – King David. Like Esau, David was a redhead. And, by all accounts, he was blessed with lots of energy. We know him as a shepherd, warrior, musician, poet, spiritual giant, astute politician, father, husband, and good friend. We know him as a man where passion sometimes precluded reason. Yet, his energy was directed in positive channels. Because of those energies, he become king David!

Had Esau found constructive outlets, would the biblical story have unfolded differently?

At Matara, a residential treatment program in Israel, we refer to the failure to accommodate children and young people who don’t fit the mold as “The Esau Complex.” The young men and women who thrive in our program were often branded with modern labels – Autism, ADHD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). We should be finding ways to nurture potential among the children who fall outside the comfort zone of our society. Instead, we have constructed a system that doesn’t understand them, that regularly debases their skills, and that drives them apart from family and community.

Rethinking and tapping the energy

Has it been your experience that as autism,  ADHD and ODD diagnoses multiply or that schools make “accommodations” for “handicapped” students? Is it the case that school, and the wider society, view our out-of-the-mold kids as somehow second rate or disabled? Do these young women and men find that their strengths are debased?

The results for Jewish families, and for the Jewish community, are devastating. Experiencing failure and frustration year after year is a recipe for disaster. The results often include estrangement from family, alienation from community, and even a drift to substance abuse or other risky behaviors powered by low self-esteem.

It can be different. Our families, communities, and schools should be providing positive reinforcement for the multiple types of intelligence that our young people have. Non-verbal, non-mathematical intelligences need to be recognized, cultivated, and regarded. In Israel, a wide range of young people find opportunities to build on their natural talents. We are justly proud of our scholars and scientists, but the nature of society means that merchants, carpenters, construction workers, soldiers, bus drivers, bank clerks, plumbers, butchers, and bakers live side by side with doctors and lawyers.

At Matara, we are committed to finding avenues for young men and women to build self-esteem, self-worth, and competence. In our experience, the results are evident in improved family relations, greater identification and participation in the community, measurable improvements in functioning, and reduced risk of substance abuse.

If you are a community leader, educational professional, or a concerned parent, reach out to Matara for guidance. Whether you are facing failure to launch, have a child that just doesn’t fit in any school, or just want direction for how to meet the challenges, we are here to help.



Please Don’t Praise Me for Loving My Child With a Disability

It happens to most of us as we parent kids with disabilities, we hear statements like, “You are amazing, I could never do it.” “It must be so hard.”

I couldn't do it

Yes, it’s true, sometimes parenting kids with disabilities can be hard. We do have extra challenges that most parents of typical children don’t have to deal with, and our lives might look a little different than yours. But I hope you recognize that our lives look similar to yours too.

Can I be honest with you? Some of these comments – after a while – make me feel as if you think my child is not as lovable, and only certain people would be able to love my child or parent her. When you praise me for parenting my child, it says to me you feel fortunate she’s not your child because that would be hard and terrible and tragic. I know that’s not what you’re trying to communicate, I know that, but sometimes it does.

If I saw a friend with her typical child and I pointed at her kid and said, “I could never do it.” I think we would all agree it would be rude. That statement would say a lot about what I thought about her child, most likely not positive because I just said I could never do it. “What do you mean?” She’d probably ask offended. “I mean, it must be so hard to parent YOUR child!” Maybe right then she would have day dreams of punching me in the face. But I would not be surprised if she picked up her kid and walked away from me, offended, and reassuring her child he is loved, and wonderful, and she is lucky to be his mom.

It’s no different when I hear that. That’s how it makes me feel.

You see, the world tells us that disability is bad. When my youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome my midwife cried and the pediatrician shook his head and said he was sorry for giving us such bad news.

When we adopted our daughter who has cerebral palsy, a lady asked my husband, “Couldn’t you find a healthy one?”

Look back in history, we have not treated persons with disabilities as people. We have not treated them as equals. We still fight those messages and ideas today. Ask an adult with a disability how most of our society treats them, and think about how you would feel if you were judged based on your limitations. As the mother of two kids with disabilities, this pains me, because most people don’t know what I know, they don’t see what I see. They’re not part of our Friday night movie nights. Or our family vacations. They don’t see the pure joy of watching them dance and laugh and be kids. Disability is not a tragedy, what is tragic is how the world views disability.

I love my kids.  And I’m not extraordinary for loving them, I’m their mom! How could I possibly not love them? How could I possibly not be their advocate, their teacher, their greatest supporter? You don’t think you could do it? Yes, yes you could do it! You would do it because you love your kids. And I am who you would be if your child had a disability. Having kids with disabilities is not reserved for the special few. It happens to me, to you, to my neighbor, and to the millionaire. Disability is part of life.

Comments that praise me for loving my child suggest that while everyone else got high speed wireless internet, I’m stuck with dial up. I mean that stinks, dial up of all things! “So sad you can’t enjoy the internet or participate in social media like the rest of us, I could never do it, I could never do dial up. I know what high speed wireless internet is like, it must be so hard to wait for the dial while everyone else is already on Facebook.”

My child is not the least desirable option, she’s not dial up, she’s a person. She has a unique personality, gifts, talents, ideas, likes and dislikes,  a temper, a sense of humor, a big laugh, a tendency to melt my heart, and her arms wrap tight around my neck letting me know she loves me too.


Please, don’t hear me say I don’t want your support or encouragement, because I do. If you think I’m doing a good job, just say that, “Hey, you’re doing a great job.” If you think I look frazzled and you see my child is having some difficulties, I might be having a hard day, and if you really don’t know how I do it, chances are I might not know how to make it through the day either, so what about, “How are you doing?” Open the conversation, ask questions, let me know you care.

But please remember, I’m not amazing for loving my child, neither are you for loving yours. It’s what we do, we love our kids.

Look at your child, because you know no matter what happens, you will never stop loving your kids and you would do anything for them. If there was an accident and your child ended up disabled, you would care for them and love them just as fiercely as you do now.

I don’t feel I got the wrong end of the deal, I’m not stuck with dial up. I feel like the luckiest mom to call these kids my own. Please don’t praise me for loving my kids, they are lovable, they are mine.



The First Day of Kindergarten for My Son With ODD/ADHD

photo of cute little emotional boy outdoors

I sent my youngest boy off to kindergarten today. I thought I might find some relief in this. He is my “busy” child. My days with him are spent performing various forms of “redirecting.” We are exhausted by the end of the day and often times on the verge of tears.

As I helped him into his pajamas last night, he began to ask me the typical questions of a child about to enter the world of academia.

“Will I have to bring my school supplies home with me every day and then back to school again?”

“No, bud. They’ll stay there.”

“But what if I have homework?”

“You will bring home the work that needs to be done at home, and we will have everything else you need, right here at home.”

“What if I have to cut some paper?”

“We have scissors here, honey.”

“We do? Where?”

“Well, I’m not going to tell you that right now. I will get them for you when we need them.”

“What if my teacher yells at me?”

“Now, why would your teacher yell at you?”

“Because I’m bad. I’m always bad, and what if she hates me?”

Wait. What? Never had I ever gotten the impression that my son felt like he was a “bad kid.” Yes, he is probably (definitely) reminded of what the household rules are and why we must enforce them, pretty regularly. Yes, he probably (definitely) spends more time in his room than his siblings do. (Time spent thinking about why we cannot throw a bat across the yard when we strike out. Or why we cannot close the drain and then leave the water to run from the bathroom sink until the ceiling below said bathroom starts dripping on mom’s head. Sometimes he’s sent to his room because he is screaming at the top of his lungs because the guy he picked to win in American Ninja Warrior did not in fact win today.)

Despite all of this, we have never told him we thought he was “bad,” or even what he was doing was “bad.” In fact, my husband and I make a point to do everything we can to not respond in a negative manor when, for instance, his little sister walks into our room with a Sharpee mustache and pointy eyebrows. (Cue, “well meaning” parents responses claiming, “If that were my kid…”)

We have rewarded him with stickers and cotton balls for all of his good behaviors and acts of kindness. We remind him often of how much we love him and how lucky we are to be his parents. But, still. He sees himself as a “bad” kid. Hearing those words made my heart break for him.

He’s so young and already displays the signs of self shaming that comes along with the long list of ADHD struggles. My little boy, with his big blue eyes and tender heart. The boy who covers his little sister with his own blanket when she falls asleep on the couch on movie night. The boy who cheers for his older brother at his baseball games yelling “Yes! Great hit, Max!” The boy who sings “Wrecking Ball” into his toy microphone while dancing around his room when he thinks no one is watching. My funny, sweet, caring, thoughtful boy, thinks that he is deserving of “hate” from his soon-to-be teacher.

I watch him as he walks away from me toward the enormous doors of the school. (When did those doors get so big?) I can feel the tears forming in my eyes as he slowly blends into the swarm of children flooding through those doors. He is hidden, in part, by his giant backpack along with the older kids who tower over him. He never looks back. My brave little man. I know how nervous he is, but he marches on in to a whole new world. A world that, I hope, will embrace and accept him for who he is. A world that, I hope, will see the kind and loving boy who once ran full speed for two whole blocks to his brother when he saw he wiped out on his bike, just to make sure he was OK.

I walk back to my car, and the tears are now falling freely beyond my control. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” my daughter asks.

I try to compose myself, and I clear my throat to try and gather together enough words to form a comprehensible answer. “I’m just going to miss that boy so much,” I manage to get out between unexpected sobs.

She looks up at me with her sweet and understanding eyes and says, “I know, Mommy, he’s my best boy. I will really miss my good boy.”

Oh, how I hope the world will see what we see



A Vision For Your Child’s Future After a Diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder-ADHD

On a December morning after I dropped my 10-year-old son off at school, a Christmas song came on the radio, which triggered a future vision of my Daughter. It was of her in a wedding dress at a church full of family and friends. The church was decorated with holiday colors; red and green.

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She was beaming with love and happiness, as she stood at the top of the aisle ready to take her first step towards a new life.

My eyes suddenly filled with tears as the vision was a huge moment for me. It allowed me to see my Daughter thriving in life. I got to see a future for her, where we were no longer living day by day.

The past 8 years of Daughter’s 16 years of life we have been dealing with her mental health issues. At the age of 8, while in 3rd grade Ellie was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety. At the age of 13 it was recommended that she have a Neuropsychological evaluation. She then received the diagnoses of ADHD – Inattentive Type, Major Depressive Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Along with an eating disorder – Binge Eating. This journey took us to see many different service providers, to Inpatient Hospitalization, Partial Hospitalization and to Inpatient Residential Treatment for 5 months where she celebrated her 14th birthday.

This caused me to only focus on our day to day tasks, whatever is needed to get us through the day.

I remember at one point my Husband said our “Daughter isn’t like the other kids, she struggles at school, she doesn’t listen, she doesn’t care, she doesn’t . . .” I told him, “You are right she isn’t like other kids and we need to realize that and just accept her for “Ellie”.”

I think this is when I stopped looking towards the future and setting goals for college, for life, for success outside of daily life. The reason was to protect myself from feeling disappointment and/or sadness.

She had some dark times. She pushed away her family, her friends, she hated everyone. She talked about hurting herself.

There were times I would come home worried what I might find. Slowly opening her bedroom door, calling her name. Waiting, hoping for a response.

How could I plan a future for this child, when I was just hoping for another day?

I have always told my children they can do and be anything. Thinking I am an amazing positive Mom. With my Daughter I wasn’t truly feeling it in my soul.

She wasn’t saying anything positive about herself, so I would say it for her. If I wasn’t believing it and she wasn’t believing it, of course it wouldn’t come true.

We weren’t manifesting the positive words, because we didn’t radiate the energy of confidence and in turn attract the experiences. I learned your thoughts and energy create your reality.

Fortunately, with my new knowledge, over the past 2 years I have seen a transformation in my Daughter. She is now, not just coping with mental health, she is thriving.

I know see a bright future! This doesn’t mean that she won’t experience bumps along the road, but I feel she is better equipped to handle them. Over the last 2 years we have switched from mainstream medical treatment to a holistic way of treating her mental illness. This has been the spark to change her life!

I ask you . . . what do you envision for your child? Don’t let an illness or any other situation stop YOU from seeing your child live the life they deserve. If we can’t see an abundant future for our child, they can’t see it for themselves!

Here are some suggestions of questions to ask your child, if they are in a good place and ready to answer. Listen with intention and don’t interrupt unless asked for advice or to respond.

• What are your dreams for the future?
• What do you love to do?
• How can I (we) support you?
• Tell me (us) some goals that you have for yourself?

Anything they share with you should be celebrated! Here is an example of when I asked my Daughter one of her dreams for the future . . . she told me she wanted to live and work in the City. I listened and didn’t push any further. I closed my eyes and saw a vision of her in the city with her own apartment, a huge smile on her face. This is a celebration, for a period of time she didn’t leave her room for 30 days because she was so depressed. Now she wants to live and work in the city. I didn’t ask questions about how she’s going to pay for rent, transportation, work, etc. This would have just destroyed the outlook she had towards her future.

Be the spark to ignite change, to see the future for your child! They will feel your shift and be ready to take on their future with the brightest of excitement.



Why The Link Between ADHD Vs ODD Surprises Psychologists

A study between the link of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and other mental health problems among girls was conducted by the UCLA psychologists. They knew that girls diagnosed with ADHD had higher risk of having psychological issues but what surprised them was that Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD ranked higher than anxiety disorder.

In the report, which was published in the Journal Pediatrics, 42 percent of the girls with ADHD and five percent without the hyperactivity disorder were diagnosed with ODD, UCLA Newsroom had learned. While only 37.7 percent with ADHD and 13.9 percent without were diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder.

Approximately five to ten percent of the children in the United States have ADHD, Steve Lee, associate professor of psychology in UCLA and senior author of the study, said. Whereas, about two to 16 percent of children and teens have ODD,

The symptoms of ODD includes repeated temper tantrums, refusal to comply with rules and requests, blaming others for one’s mistakes, excessive arguing with adults and swearing or using offensive language. Meanwhile, ADHD is characterized by fidgeting, being easily distracted, unable to complete a single task and getting easily bored.

Lee additionally said that ADHD begins in pre-school and can progress to high school and adulthood, especially when it is comorbid with ODD. There are many views on what causes these disorders and among which are biological, genetic and environmental.

It is recommended that parents should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of ADHD and ODD. There are treatments out there that are recommended by the psychologist, which includes pharmaceutical intervention, psychotherapy and parenting strategies.

Keep in mind that it is important to impose structure and consistency to children with ADHD and ODD. Rules are rules and they have to be applied without falter. Positive and negative reinforcements may be applied too. It’s note-worthy, however, that some kids manifest negative behaviour to secure attention from adults.Parents must remember that one intervention working for one child may not work for the other. It is best that once you have seen some disturbing symptoms, like when the behaviour lasts more than six months and is excessive, have your child checked for ADHD or ODD



I Adopted A Child With Special Needs & It Changed My Life In Ways I Never Imagined

We swam in an alphabet soup of possible diagnoses Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit-hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Oppositional-Defiant Disorder (ODD), anxiety, rickets, Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), Occupational Therapy (OT), Speech Therapy (ST), Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT). Some fit, others did not, but we left no stone unturned.

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That’s cool that you adopted; I could never do it. I mean, you just don’t know what you’re gonna get!” The mom at the city play space lowered her voice to say the last sentence while I stood next to her, mouth agape. It’s not that I wasn’t aware that such sentiment existed; of course I was. I just wasn’t accustomed to total strangers blurting out comments on my decision to adopt a child mere moments after our introduction.

My mind reeled back six years earlier, to the memory of sitting on a flat, green futon with my husband, a mountain of paperwork in our laps. We agreed we both wanted to start our family through adoption, knowing that the need for loving parents for orphans was so great around the world. Although the decision to adopt had come fairly naturally to us, having to mark on a piece of paper the needs we would and would not consider was an emotionally grueling process. Who wants to turn down a child who will need heart surgery?But who can afford to pay for heart surgery? That evening we finally agreed on two stipulations: no older children, and no children with special needs. Those might be things to take on in the future, we reasoned, but as a young couple with no parenting experience and very little expendable income we didn’t feel confident accepting more challenges than we were equipped to handle.

But the day we walked into that little Ugandan orphanage and held our son for the first time was the most surreal day of my life. He was almost 10 months old and he was beautiful:  I had never before held anything so incredibly precious.

We had received his picture via email three months before and had copied and plastered it over every inch of our home. Every single day we waited for news of the scheduling of our guardianship court date (which would give us the green light to buy plane tickets and enter the country), or at the very least, for an update on our son. Our Alyosha. Even before we met him, we loved him. But holding him in our arms was something completely different; it was like a new and an old love both at the same time. We were strangers, but we were family. We were awkward together, but we belonged to each other.

We learned that to parent a child with special needs is to become an advocate, because the professional expert you’re expecting to swoop in and give you all the answers doesn’t exist. You’re the expert, but you have to claw your way to the title.

Although we had specified “no special needs” in our paperwork, we understood that it’s rare for institutionalized children to not have some form of developmental delay. Infants our son’s age typically need several months in a healthy family to catch up on developmental milestones due to the lack of maternal care and one-on-one attention that babies need to thrive. My husband and I arrived in Uganda prepared for that. Yet by the time we laid our heads down on our pillows that first night, we knew we were facing a much deeper well.

We asked each other questions, tried to piece together signs that we were seeing with what we knew of his history. The other babies his age and younger can sit up. I’m not sure if he can roll over. One of his eyes wanders. He is so silent; he almost never babbles. Have you noticed he doesn’t laugh? We knew he was malnourished before he came to the orphanage, but do you think he’s getting enough food now? Could he still be malnourished? We talked late into the night, and by the time sleep found us,we’d agreed we could very well be on the road of special-needs parenthood. But we never questioned whether or not we would still adopt him; in our hearts he was already ours. Our love for Alyosha and desire to protect him only grew fiercer. Yet at the same time, an unknown future hung over our heads.

Life for my family may never look the way it does for others, but I’m OK with that because of something I never anticipated: parenting a child with special needs has changed me.

The next five years were a marathon of seeking answers, one where we rarely got to stop and rest, lest the world crumble down over us and our little boy. We learned that to parent a child with special needs is to become an advocate, because the professional expert you’re expecting to swoop in and give you all the answers doesn’t exist. You’re the expert, but you have to claw your way to the title.

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We swam in an alphabet soup of possible diagnoses Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit-hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Oppositional-Defiant Disorder (ODD), anxiety, rickets, Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), Occupational Therapy (OT), Speech Therapy (ST), Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT). Some fit, others did not, but we left no stone unturned. Not because we were greedy for a label, but because life was too hard for our child and he deserved better. From the records available from our adoption agency we knew just enough information about our son’s history to know he was at risk for an improperly developed brain (due to early trauma), but not enough to give the definitive answers we wished for. I felt deeply attached to him and experienced daily moments of tender connection, but I also daily carried the weight of his emotional volatility and inability to engage in society in a healthy way. I myself eventually began to suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, and hypervigilance. And through extensive research in the world of adoption, I came to learn that my reality had a name: secondary trauma.

I used to correlate the behavior of children to the aptitude of their parents, and was all too quick to mentally shove others into “good” parent and “bad” parent boxes. Now I know better.

As he’s grown, we’ve found our own rhythm and for us, it’s been a mixture of therapeutic parenting, medication, and accumulated experience in studying our kid as a unique individual. We’ve implemented Trust-Based Relationship Intervention as our primary parenting lens, but we’ve also learned to read our son’s cues and study him to let him tell us what he needs. We now know which social engagements simply aren’t possible, when to leave early or scrap our plans, when to stick to our plans for dear life, how to structure our home life in a way that helps him thrive, and what sensory strategies help calm him. But perhaps most importantly of all, we have learned to relax and enjoy him for exactly who he is. Life for my family may never look the way it does for others, but I’m OK with that because of something I never anticipated: parenting a child with special needs has changed me.

I never considered myself to be a judgmental person, but let’s be honest, does anyone? I realized how much I used to correlate the behavior of children to the aptitude of their parents, and was all too quick to mentally shove others into “good” parent and “bad” parent boxes. Now I know better. Before I became a parent I’d roll my eyes over a child who appeared out of control in a public space, assuming their mother was a lazy doormat. Then I became a parent and my child was always the one being out of control in a public space. I knew I was doing the absolute best I could, so I was forced to rethink my own paradigm.

When I’m exhausted at the end of the day and my son is running wild around the house, physically unable to process the words I’m saying to him or respond to any possible consequence I threaten him with, I’ve been horrified by my own instinct to resort to unreasonable punishment. I’d always believed I’d never be one of “those” people. But am I?

Now I cheer on other women who do things entirely differently than I do, having more perspective that those things matter so much less than I used to believe. I’ve come to realize that children are unique and complex human beings, and though different parenting approaches are important, they aren’t the only factor stirring the pot. I used to think that doing X + Y would always = Z; that children were some sort of math equation to be solved. Now I know that there a million ways to reach the same result: children who know they are loved and who can love others in return.

Parenting a child whose brain has been affected by early trauma and malnutrition has meant living under more stress than ever before in my life. As a result, my own emotional outbursts, the depth of my anger, and my lack of self-control have often shocked me. When I’m exhausted at the end of the day and my son is running wild around the house, physically unable to process the words I’m saying to him or respond to any possible consequence I threaten him with, I’ve been horrified by my own instinct to resort to unreasonable punishment. I’d always believed I’d never be one of “those” people. But am I?

Being Alyosha’s mom has also taught me to see the best in other people, to think more about what people are up against and less about what they’re doing wrong. He’s taught me to embrace the present moment and enjoy both life and people, even when neither are perfect.

I always thought I was a pretty “together” person. Now I realize that it was only because I’d never experienced the same level of hardships others have. In the past I’ve judged “incompetent” parents, looked at them as something less than human because of mistakes they’ve made with their children. But now I know most parents are doing the best they can with what they have and know. I know because I’ve been there. I am there.

But more than anything, I’m thankful to have accidentally become a special-needs parent because it has taught me everything about what it means to be family. We bear one another’s burdens, offer forgiveness and clean slates, advocate for each other, believe the best of each other, and never stop celebrating. I’ve come to learn that my talk of love is useless if I’m not willing to back it up with action; but that when I’m willing to fight for love I discover new and exciting parts of myself, like tenacity and strength. Being Alyosha’s mom has also taught me to see the best in other people, to think more about what people are up against and less about what they’re doing wrong. He’s taught me to embrace the present moment and enjoy both life and people, even when neither are perfect.

What I wish I would have told that mom at play group is that the unknowns of adoption have been its greatest gift to me. I wish I would have told her that I’m glad our family didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but that it’s richer and more beautiful than I ever could have dreamed. I remember well the days of fearing hardship, of wanting to avoid it at all cost, but life with Alyosha has shown me there is something greater on the other side of that fear — it’s love.



I Am A Mom With ADHD & This Is What It’s Feel Like-term life

I wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood, but the signs were always there: my verbal interruptions, my obsession with my video games, the way I’m always late, or always early; the fact that I’m never on time. How my voice rises in volume until it’s off the social register. I was the dreamy kid who spent math class playing with unicorn erasers. They called me “space cadet,” “dumb blonde,” “wifty.” They said I had “no common sense.” But I had plenty of common sense. I just had a whopping case of ADHD.

I coasted through life with a few road bumps: lost credit cards, missed meetings, an inability to read Heidegger, because you can’t skim Being in Time while skipping whole paragraphs. But mostly I did OK. I might have had a messy car, and I might have talked too loudly sometimes, but I functioned. It worked for me.

Then I had kids. And suddenly, having ADHD as a mom mattered a whole hell of a lot more. Kids are complicated. They require nonstop attention. They need to be fed on regular schedules. You have to keep track of a whole other person’s possessions, most of which are tiny, all of which are indispensable. You have to remember, and then get to, any number of important doctor’s appointments and playdates.

But I managed. I cloth diapered mainly so that I didn’t forget to buy diapers. I breastfed so I didn’t forget to wash bottles. When my son was born, I had to remember diaper laundry, which I did by washing every single night without fail. We were always losing swaddles or pacifiers. With my second son, my diaper bag bulged, but not always with the right size diaper, or enough covers, or a decent wet bag. Suddenly baby shoes became a lot less important when I had one kid wrapped on my chest and another running around screaming.

My ADHD makes me forgetful, and I know it, and my parenting preparedness suffers. Sometimes my kids suffer, and that’s worst of all. Parenting comes naturally. The details do not.

With three boys, well, we’ve finally given up the valiant fight to keep our house clean. I forgot to clean pen, marker, and crayon marks off the wall, and they became permanent. We’ve learned to live with it. We have to. I had to make some major adjustments, mostly to my sense of cleanliness and my tolerance for noise. But I still struggle, everyday, to mesh my ADHD and my parenting. Some days it works better than others, but those old characteristics are still there.


When I stop with my boys at the drive-thru somewhere, I don’t think to set the straw wrapper aside. I just toss it on the floor. I have a McDonald’s-worth of ossified french fries stuffed in various locations, because I have three sons and those three sons need toys and books to amuse themselves, because they might throw a fit if asked to look out the window for once. So the bag is padded with a deep detritus of reading material, stuffed animals, and said french fries. When I open the door, cups roll out. I stuff them back in and pretend it never happened. I just don’t think to clean. And when I do, I plan to do it tomorrow.

Mothering three young boys with ADHD is nothing like I thought it would be. It’s not as smooth, not as easy. I’m scrambling for traction more often than not.

I can’t help but feel like other women with kids always have diaper bags stuffed with everything needed to survive a nuclear apocalypse. Those diaper bags don’t just carry the basic accoutrements of diaper changes. They’ve got snacks. They’ve got juice. They’ve got designated snot wipes. There are toys, blankets, and a maxi pad or two. I’m lucky if I remember to stuff more diapers in my already overflowing bag (because sometimes I forget we decided to use cloth). Then I have to borrow wipes from an obliging friend.


I feel inadequate when I see those mega bags, or when a women unearths a pacifier for her fussy baby in two seconds flat. My ADHD makes me forgetful, and I know it, and my parenting preparedness suffers. Sometimes my kids suffer, and that’s worst of all. Parenting comes naturally. The details do not.

I have problems getting out of the house because we’re always losing shoes, forgetting medication, or needing one last blessed cup of coffee. If I don’t plan for the day ahead of time (or my alarm doesn’t go off, which happens with startling frequency), we’re typically late, usually by about half an hour. The sense of mortification never goes away. I’m afraid my kids will think it’s normal and acceptable to saunter into every engagement 20 minutes after it’s started. I make a point to say how rude we’re being — how rude I am being — but I don’t think it sticks.

Mothering three young boys with ADHD is nothing like I thought it would be. It’s not as smooth, not as easy. I’m scrambling for traction more often than not. I don’t notice the baby pouring water in the hallway because the older two are fighting in the living room. Obviously, I expected motherhood to be chaotic. But I thought I’d keep a handle on most of the chaos.

People who don’t know me (and sometimes some who do) assume that I want to live like this. They assume my messiness is laziness, or some other character flaw, and that forgetting diaper wipes means I don’t care about my kids.

I’ve had to let go of an ideally clean house. Martha doesn’t live here, people. With a husband who also has ADHD, I’ve learned to live with clutter. Crayons don’t have a designated place, neither does paper. We can never find scissors or tweezers or fingernail clippers. ADHD means running out to Babies “R” Us, again, to buy another NoseFrida, again, because we’ve lost the one we have. Life isn’t picture-perfect, and neither is the floor of my minivan. If I don’t accept it, I go crazy.


People who don’t know me (and sometimes some who do) assume that I want to live like this. They assume my messiness is laziness, or some other character flaw, and that forgetting diaper wipes means I don’t care about my kids. But mostly, people are accepting. Friends know I’ll be half an hour late to playdates. They understand.

For the most part, I don’t mind the chaos. The art supplies dumped on the floor, the robo-dinosaur left on — sure, they’re annoying, but it isn’t the end of the world as we know it. And my kids are lucky, because a high tolerance for mess means a high tolerance for Play-Doh and paint, glue, and glitter. I hyperfocus too, so my kids have awesome hair. I like doing hair.

It’s hard to parent. It can be even harder when you’re not neurotypical, when you seriously can’t remember people’s names from one playdate to the next. A lot of the time, I still feel like the dumb blond space cadet, even though saying that, for me, has nothing to do with playing into the stereotypical trope. Yet I keep on keepin’ on. I have to set a good example for my sons. After all, at least two of my kids have ADHD — they’re just like their mama.



Distressed Mom Fears Son will be Danger to Himself,Oppositional Defiant Disorder

In the meantime, he isn’t taking his medications and hasn’t had a proper psychiatric evaluation since he was diagnosed at 10 with ADHD, anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, Tourette’s and permanent brain damage.


At just four years old, he was hearing voices and telling his mother that aliens were abducting him at night. At nine, he was admitted to the psychiatric unit at B.C. Children’s Hospital because he was suicidal and obsessed with violence.

Now 17, A. is a prisoner at the Burnaby Youth Detention Centre. He led a riot at the jail last summer. As a young offender, A. can’t be named, but he’s been in government care for about eight years, ever since his threats against his younger brother and violence to the family pets got to be too much for his mom and stepdad to handle.

A. will be 18 when he’s released from jail in May, and will have just nine months in an independent living arrangement before he ages out of care. What happens then is a source of constant distress for his family.

“He’s a danger to himself, he’s a danger to society and it’s because he’s only ever fallen through the cracks. No one has ever taken the time to honestly try to help him. Nobody except for his mom,” family friend Kathy Carpenter said.

Since making the heart-wrenching decision to give up her son, mom N. has been a constant and vocal advocate for the teen, making countless calls, writing endless emails and attending meeting after meeting with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

She’s heard the recent stories of teens who’ve died after aging out of care, and says her son was friends with one of them, 18-year-old Alex Gervais.

A. is set to age out without graduating from high school or learning key life skills, so N. worries that his prospects are similarly bleak.

“How’s he going to function? He doesn’t know how to cook, he doesn’t know how to properly do laundry. They never taught him this stuff. They never made him go to school,” said N. “If he gets out and does one more crime, he’s an adult. Then what?”

The fate of kids like A. is the subject of an ongoing investigation by B.C.’s new representative for children and youth, Bernard Richard. A. spent some time living at a group home operated by A Community Vision, the company whose contracts with the province were cancelled after an investigation identified caregivers with outstanding criminal charges and violent histories.

Richard’s office has been tracking the paths of kids who were in the care of the company ever since Gervais fell to his death from an Abbotsford hotel window in 2015 after his ACV group home was closed.

“Part of his situation was caused by fairly significant changes in the quality of care that he received during his time at ACV,” Richard said. “It’s raised issues for us regarding the quality of some of the residential placements. ”

Because of A.’s young offender status, Richard couldn’t comment directly on his case, but he said that many of the teens in his situation have had “quite traumatic” experiences while in care. And Gervais isn’t the only one to come to a tragic end — another former ACV ward died of an apparent overdose in a tent in Surrey in November, months after she aged out of government care.

At her Metro Vancouver home, N. keeps stacks of papers documenting family case planning conferences with the ministry. In each one, there are small signs of progress — A. bonding with a caregiver or expressing an interest in returning to school — but by the next meeting, those small gains are washed away.

“It’s the same thing, over and over and over, and nothing’s ever come out of it,” N. said.

She understands the system better than she’d like to. She grew up in government care, too — her parents were heroin addicts — but she worked hard to give her three sons the home she didn’t have.

A. has cycled through about 10 foster and group homes over the years, usually getting kicked out for destructive and sometimes frightening behaviour. In the meantime, he isn’t taking his medications and hasn’t had a proper psychiatric evaluation since he was diagnosed at 10 with ADHD, anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, Tourette’s and permanent brain damage. He’s disappeared for weeks at a time, N. says, and racked up charges for assault, auto theft, possession of stolen property and robbery.

In a 2015 recording of a meeting with A.’s care team, N. challenges his social workers and the caregivers at his group home about the marijuana she saw littering her son’s room on her last visit. She says she noticed a bong, as well as pot on his bed and dresser.

“It’s a curiosity of mine. The ministry can go into somebody’s house and take their kid because their parents smoke a bit of pot or drink beers or whatever. But here you have a ministry house that allows a child to be in there with numerous amounts of drugs in his room,” N. says.

She goes on: “I’ll tell you, when I was in care and I had pot, it was taken away.”

The answer she receives is that caregivers aren’t allowed to enter a child’s room without ministry approval, and besides, A. has lashed out in the past when he’s asked to clean up the room.

“He’s so confrontational I think they just stopped trying,” a staff member at the group home says.

Though N. aches to let him come home if she could get government permission, she doesn’t feel it’s safe while his little brother still lives there. He’s robbed the family before, and the last time they moved they decided not to give him their new address.

Kathy Carpenter spent about a year as N.’s one-to-one worker in the 90s, and has remained her ally as she passed into adulthood. None of what’s happened with A. should be a reflection on his mom’s parenting, Carpenter argues.

“She’s a really good mom,” Carpenter said. “She was a strict mom, there was no fooling around, and she monitored their computer time.”

And N.’s two other sons appear to be thriving. The eldest was a star athlete in high school and graduated this year. The youngest can be a bit mischievous, but he’s never been in serious trouble.

The choice to allow A. to go into government care was a wrenching one for N. and her husband, according to Carpenter.

“She was miserable — she felt she’d failed as a parent. It was really a terrible decision that she had to make, but I encouraged her to make it,” Carpenter.

But she had hoped that being in care would give A. access to trained professionals who would see the urgency of his psychiatric issues and get him the treatment he needed. Consistent caregivers, discipline, and medication should have been priorities, she argues.

According to children’s representative Richard, care for kids with mental health issues is lacking across the country — not just in B.C. Mental illness generally isn’t treated with the same urgency as physical illness, and children’s mental illness gets even less attention, he says.

Richard also believes that youth detention centres need to have a stronger focus on rehabilitation.

“By not providing services and investing in those kinds of services, it’s really a false economy, because we’ll end up paying more later on as a result of the way they will behave once they’re back out in society,” he said.

But he added that B.C. does a much better job than most provinces at keeping kids out of jail by using other methods of rehabilitation like restorative justice.

According to the children’s ministry, B.C.’s youth custody rate has dropped by more than three-quarters in the last 20 years. At the end of December, just 37 kids were in custody. However, about 35 per cent of those are teens like Gervais who are in government care.

“British Columbia is widely recognized as having one of the most progressive and effective systems of youth justice services in the country,” a ministry spokesperson said in an email.

The spokesperson went on to say that government-contracted group homes have “various approaches to mental health and behavioural issues training.” That may range from in-house training to university degrees in child and youth care. The ministry is also working on developing new training for foster caregivers in dealing with a range of issues including mental health, substance use and behaviour problems.