They have so much to teach us

Anita Flansburg

I look at my youngest son as he studies. There is something about how excited he becomes when he talks about any variety of science that makes me smile. I can’t believe how much he has changed from a frightened child into a strong almost adult. At one time, he sported the Autism Spectrum moniker, which he himself stripped away. After having violent and terrifying hallucinations on Risperdal, he chose to never take a psychiatric drug again. I supported his decision because it was wholly logical and the “meds” never made his distress any better. It actually did just the opposite. 

This was a brave new world. I had always been encouraging and supportive of all of my kids so this was nothing new. But this opened a door for him to get to the bottom of his “behaviors” and to dispel everything the education system assumed was going on and punished him for.  

When he was ready , nearly six years later, he began to talk to me about the bullying he had endured in school since he was in kindergarten. He was a small boy and had a lazy eye so he wore a patch and glasses. That was enough to center some very unwanted attention on him and to encourage specific others to tease him the entire year. The same went on each and things began to become physical in 5th grade. After all these years, despite my demands to remedy the usual offenders, the school did nothing and it became a normal reaction for my son to begin to physically defend himself from others who decided he was okay to hit and trip in the hallways. He was fed up and I doubt that there are few of us who don’t understand that position. His response was entirely normal which I didn’t realize until a bit later when the full extent of his torment was disclosed.

Now, in 5th grade, he was labeled the “aggressor”and the school felt it was time to intervene and victimize my son further by defining him as the problem and socially shaming him with a diagnosis driven “testing” process. Of course I fell for it, having had my own indoctrination into the mental harm system and being on meds myself for more than half of my life. I had no faith in that system but felt powerless to refuse the suggestions from the school. In short order he was on the “spectrum” and suffered from ADHD and was written prescriptions and sent on his way. Six months passed and then a year and nothing changed except the intensity of hatred he felt for school authority, who continued to be non-responsive to protecting him from his bullies. He finally ended up in a level four school spending his days with kids who had done time in the juvenile system and others who were one step away from being farmed out into some mental health rehab program or another. These were the settings where they sent kid they had given up on.  So here is this intelligent, thoughtful and kind kid coming home to tell me how upset he was because of the girls who sat and cut herself in front of him. He wasn’t upset with her and understood her reasons for doing so. He was mad because no one was doing anything beneficial for her. In sixth grade he knew this type of crap committed by “responsible adults” was just wrong. His already low faith in the “system” was eliminated by the time I chose to home school him the following year. I had no faith in the school system to protect my son or to do anything that would benefit him and help him achieve his potential. Once he had the dandy labels, it became their cop out to teaching to the behavior and neglecting his right to an education that met his level of intelligence. 

It was nearing the end of sixth grade and he was just wiped out from being drugged. After heading to the ED at 4:00 in the morning (the hospital was 45 minuted away) because he was hallucinating for the second time in 3 days, all I can remember was him telling me not to look at him because I had no face, just bones. Exhausted by the time we got there and with the terrifying images receding, he was able to sleep. The official note in his chart to this day: “Allergic to Risperdal”. Allergic my ass. More appropriately reacting normally to a neurotoxin. I had never been warned that such a thing was even possible but after I talked to other parents with kids prescribed this particular drug, I found it to be quite a common event.

After this, he refused to take anything and I couldn’t help but think how wise he was. He inspired me to evaluate the effectiveness of the drugs I had been taking and I found them to be useless. A fact that was verified by my nurse practitioner who looked at me one day and said “They aren’t working. You’ve been on 43 different medications and endless combinations and they have done nothing for you.” By then she had identified complex post traumatic stress and helped me, in conjunction with another therapist, to resolve the trauma experiences which had festered in me since I was first hospitalized and discounted 33 years earlier. It was a time when me and my son walked away from bullshit promises and took things into our own hands. I couldn’t have done it without his brave step which set a new course for both of us. He helped me see my dependence on a system which had not been beneficial to me and gave me the courage to face the real problems that they had convinced me were “chemical”. 

He is back in school now and moving through the average challenges of those his age. He refused “special education” services stating they were a disadvantage to his education and any education he perused after high school. He’s done well in navigating his fears and even made some friends who he “kind of likes” and he has some trust with two of his teachers. He’s become involved in service projects and held jobs for two years without incident. It makes me terrified to think of where he could be had we followed “professional recommendations”. How many other kids like him are being scapegoated for the failure of the system to respond intelligently and appropriately. How many other kids who face unrelenting bullying are lingering out there, caught between two systems who do nothing for them?  

I really don’t think we can continue to deny the failures of these systems anymore nor can we ignore what our kids are trying to tell us. This is not something that we can ignore and expect to turn out well.

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