An excerpt from my book, At-Risk Students…
As I open my eyes and begin to focus on my surroundings, the bright lights overhead invade the remaining haze in my mind. As I lay here, I realize that tubes are coming out of parts of my body that I can no longer feel. I wonder, “What stage of life am I in? Am I alive or have I transitioned to the other side?” I can’t feel anything. I’m just lying here, motionless.
Suddenly I hear voices and realize I’m not alone; there are others in the room with me. My oldest son, Robert, and several of my nearest and dearest family and friends are in the room with me as well. One by one, my loved ones surround the hospital bed and look down on me. Some of them offer words of encouragement, while others look at me then turn away to cry as if I can’t see their despair. I sense fear and sadness all around me. I feel like I’m on display at a museum.
Inside I’m screaming all the encouragement they need to hear–I need to hear, but nothing comes out. I want to shout at them and tell them that I will live! I have to live! But I can’t speak. My eyes search the faces gathered around the bed and then it hits me; someone is missing—Oliver. I close my eyes to fight back the tears when I realize my youngest son is the reason I’m here.
From preschool through fifth grade, mental health evaluations are difficult because little ones are developing into who they will become. It is in middle school that children show up as who they are and their arrival may be accompanied with problems. The absence of adequate interventions and support to help with the problems is a malignancy that grows and spreads over time.
Oliver began stealing at age five. In kindergarten, I recalled organizing his little backpack, as I did almost every night, when I discovered a flyer from his teacher. It was a written plea for parents to check their child’s backpack to see if there was a toy that they did not recognize. As with most backpacks, zippered compartments are every kid’s fancy. So I opened each compartment and, guess what? There was a girl’s toy in one of them. The story began with “it’s mine” and ended with “she let me play with it.”
Oliver is a stutterer. The more he lied, the more he stuttered. Of course I gave him the “you can’t take things that do not belong to you;” and “how would you feel if it was your toy that someone took it?” lecture. He seemed puzzled by my scolding tone and attitude, but he showed remorse for his actions. This became a scene that would repeat itself over and over again. At first I thought that this was typical behavior that I could coach him out of, so I didn’t panic. I took the toy to his class, gave it to his teacher, and shared the scene from the night before with her. His teacher also stated that she felt this was not unusual and agreed that we should not be concerned.
His teacher took that opportunity to tell me that she observed certain behaviors that may be signs that Oliver had a learning disability. For example, he appeared to have delays in grasping basic directives and cognitive skills. She continued to explain that tests for special education placements were not administered until first grade. At first, I was saddened by her observations. But soon, the educator part of me kicked in and I felt a sense of relief. As an educator, I knew that Oliver would be best served if he were taught at his ability level. So again, I didn’t panic, yet.
I had been an Internet shopper for many years. Oliver grew into that habit as well. The only problem was, he was shopping with my credit card and without my knowledge! He must have studied my Internet habits long and hard. He brings new meaning to the reality that children do as you do, not as you say. At eight, he had mastered how to input the correct data: his name, address, credit card number, and expiration date. Back then, the three or four digit code on the front or back of cards did not exist. I think Oliver may have been the driving force behind the use of codes to prevent identity theft.
Next, was the Palm Pilot fiasco. One day, I saw a medium-sized box on the front porch. It was addressed to Oliver. I carefully opened the box before calling Oliver to the kitchen. It was a Palm Pilot, which cost around $400. “Oliver! Come here. What is this?” He looked at me as if I were crazy. “It’s a Palm Pilot, Mom.” “Where did this come from?” I asked. His responses went from his teacher must have sent it to him for his good grades, to neighbors who had upgraded the Palm Pilot for their son. Of course I gave him the “no one is going to purchase anything costing this much money” speech.
Over the next few days, two more Palm Pilots arrived. The local post office staff started to look at me strangely. Before returning all three Palm Pilots, I had to plead to get those charges reversed. I told the credit card companies that my credit card usage reflects my purchasing habits, and this clearly contradicts my past history. I further explained that my computer savvy eight-year-old made these unauthorized purchases. The companies agreed that the purchases within days of each other was a bit out of the ordinary and advised me to hide my credit cards.
Around 1997, most adolescent boys and girls “needed” a scooter. I refused to buy into the scooter craze. I questioned their safety and their price. With that said, when Oliver proudly announced that one of our neighbors purchased a newer model scooter for their son, thus giving the older model to Oliver, it was a believable explanation. The mother of the boy who owned the scooter showed up at my door to cautiously inform me that other neighborhood kids told her that Oliver stole her son’s scooter. Oliver lied, lied, and lied. Then he finally admitted to stealing the scooter and I began to panic.
This drove me to get online to locate psychologists who specialized in working with children. As I read various doctors’ profiles, I was trying to match what I thought would be the right fit for Oliver. I thought Oliver would speak more freely to a gentler, more compassionate doctor. So I chose a female. She played nicely with Oliver. They played word games, number games, and mind games. None of the games addressed the stealing.
After three sessions of these play dates, she referred Oliver to a psychiatrist. He didn’t play nice with Oliver. He asked Oliver if he’d ever hurt animals, started fires, or run away from home. The answers were no, no, and no. He asked questions that led to answers which led him to diagnose Oliver as depressed. As a mother, I questioned what could have made Oliver depressed. I was the one who was depressed. I had an eight-year-old son who had been stealing and lying since age five. The psychiatrist prescribed Prozac and this marked the beginning of Oliver’s introduction to psychotropic drugs.
Over the next three years, Prozac slowed Oliver’s speech, but did nothing for his uncontrollable desire to shoplift. During the Christmas holiday at age nine, Oliver walked to the K-mart store located two blocks from our home. He returned some unwanted clothing which left him with a large empty shopping bag and money in his pocket. So, Oliver stuffed the bag with clothing and attempted to leave the store. At this point, the security guard ordered Oliver to stop. As a result of this incident, Oliver was fined restitution in the amount of $150.
The K-mart experience scared him enough to get through middle school without further legal issues. During freshmen year in high school, Oliver was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. By age 19, he had grown frustrated dealing with mania and depression symptoms and requested a mental health evaluation. After a one-week hospitalization, he was released and placed on a psychotropic drug with a warning to not stop taking it without the consent of his physician. After one month of unpleasant side effects, Oliver stopped taking his medication and refused mental health treatment. Two months later, I was almost killed and Oliver was incarcerated.
Individuals battling mental health disorders and taking medication should not be free to take themselves off the medication, causing withdrawal symptoms which can lead to acts of violence. This must end.