What Would You Change in Your Family?
There is not a lot of joy living in my parents' house
"There is not a lot of joy in raising my son,"
," her plaintive eyes said it all. Knowingly patting her arm, the words came out of my mouth that I had repeated so many times to overstressed parents, whose children I had in my class.
"Do not give up. Never give up on your children. Despite being born different, no one can predict what will happen later."
She nodded. But I knew that she didn't hear me, "Impulsive and narcisstic was my little one,
from the first time that I held him in my arms,"
she was lost in her past:
"I ignored his tantrums, and him as well. You know, his father left me when he was just two and half. But what I really need to ask,
is my child acting impulsively because of his ADHD?"
"It is not easy to raise a child on your own,
especially sons. They crave having their dads around." I smiled at her encouragingly.
Another teacher-parent meeting, another mum.
"She was beautiful. She was mine. I was on the top of the world. Holding that soft pink skin and looking into her angelic eyes.
That tiny miniature of me," her eyes moistened
with memories of love.
"Never needed to scold her much. She never really got on my nerves. But now I am just
too tired to look after my autistic child." I nodded as she closed her eyes.
Then both parents entered the school, hand in hand: "We noticed something in our five year old. Still we were not ready to admit, that there was something wrong," the father told me.
His wife just sighed,
"He was just, suddenly, hard to control. Often hostile to us and everyone else."
"There are many professionals to help, you are not the only one to have a severely misbehaved child." I gestured to them to follow me to see classes with students lacking the basic social skills.
There was a student with a conduct disorder,
screaming at the top of his lungs:
"Screw you and your game! Whatever you tell me, I am not going to do."
They looked at each other, reminded, of their son. When we passed the classroom one more time, the student had settled down, enjoying the game that he had refused to play. This time they smiled at each other. There was hope in their eyes.
Then a young mum rushed through the school gate. From a distance, I noticed her pale face, and her nervous eyes darting around. She finally said:
"My child looks normal. There is really nothing wrong with him, not like that," she pointed to a student in a wheelchair. "He is just growing up
without showing emotion, remorse or empathy."
"What do you mean by that?" I quietly asked.
"He likes to lie. Not just to avoid punishment,
as all children will, but for any reason
She shrugged and took a cigarete out. I pointed to the 'no smoking' sign but she just kept puffing away and talking:
"If I cry and tell him that he hurt my feelings,
he just doesn't care. He just has to have what he wants. If he gets it, he chooses not to be cruel, but at the end of the day, he will do whatever works best for him. He killed his friend's pet, a tiny guinea pig, because he was told to hand it back..."
"Are you going to ignore that?" I asked, looking into her eyes.
"Ignore what? It was just a guinea pig, after all."
"Those traits of antisocial behaviour that you told me about, are you going to confront the problem to help your child to change course?"
"No one can tell me if my son has a personality disorder. They just say that his brain is still developing. That normal behaviour up to the teenage years can be misinterpreted as psychopathic. Do I want my son be diagnosed
with a disorder that has been considered
She came closer to me and the cigarette smoke filled my lungs. I started to cough
while she resolutely shook her head: "No way, forget it."
"I admire your attitude. You know that smoking
really is forbidden here," I took the cigarette from her hand, while she continued.
"I have read on the internet, that the capacity of empathy, which is controlled by specific parts of the brain, might still exist weakly in my son
and could be strengthened. I have to hope that it's true. I have to be patient. I want to believe that it's true." Her eyes shone expectantly.
I desperately wanted to be able to give her positive news.
"He may grow out of it in his late teens, the experts say. He may be able to pacify the rough waters and learn to control himself." I quietly said.
She beamed, waving at me:
"I'll bring him in tomorrow, I'll bring him in."
Watching her leave, I remembered what she had not been told - that some of these children
just develop a larger skill set of manipulation.
They know how to get what they want.
'The callous-unemotional child', was written under Kyle's name. Opening this student's file,
her son's diagnosis was suddenly obvious.
Something else had been added in neat handwriting:
'responds to rewards far more than punishment. What you will notice first
is the manipulativeness that he is showing.
The cold-blooded behaviours and low levels of cortisol and below-normal function in the amygdala, the portion of the brain that processes fear and shame...'
I studied his condition, something that no one else at the school had.
'The callous-unemotional kids don't feel
uncomfortable. They don't develop the same aversion to punishment or to the experience
of hurting someone..'
I read more, thinking about his young mum
and her determination to help him out. Why do some callous-unemotional children grow up to be deeply troubled adults while others do not? I asked myself. The answer lay in front of me...
"What would you change in your family, if you had the chance?"
"Nothing, I have a new boyfriend who helps me with Kyle. His father was just a ratbag.
"But look", she pulled up the sleeve up on her blouse to reveal the name of her son tattooed on her arm,
"You can't wash it off. Family is forever. Kyle will be fine. Kyle is my son."