My oldest son, Sparky, was diagnosed early with ADHD and started on stimulant drugs by the age of two. Later by the fourth grade, the district school psychologist diagnosed him with Asperger’s Disease on the autism spectrum. By the age of sixteen, doctors had him on an extremely high dose of Ritalin.
He was violent, aggressive, hyper-focused, and out of control. He tried to kill his younger brother the day of my birthday and I ended up in the ER with him in a lock-down room with a policeman guarding the door. The doctors sedated him three times before he calmed down, and then they ambulanced him to the Neuropsychiatric Unit (UNI) at the University of Utah.
I present this information in an emotionless way, but the time was anything but serene or peaceful. It’s merely one of those “I told you that so I can tell you this” moments.
During Sparky’s stay at UNI, we had to meet with doctors and psychiatrists and have family and group meetings with all the other admitted teens and their families. I will never forget that first group meeting. At least twenty resentful teens filled the folding chairs —boys and girls— most of whom were there for drug addition, suicide attempt or, especially, cutting. None of them were allowed shoelaces or draw-string clothing.
In the meeting, only two other single parents came to the meeting. The room radiated pain and hostility. The counselors began by having each of us introduce ourselves. The intros came quickly around the room to me, my husband, and Sparky’s younger brother, Roo, because no one was opening up about their problems. Roo told everyone about Sparky chasing him, shoving him into the glass shower doors, and trying to kill him. He told them how he feared for his life—all over a Lego piece. Yes, a piece of plastic. A toy. An object.
A wave of disbelief permeated the room.
Sparky chirped in with, “Shut up, Roo.”
One boy, who had been tipped back in his chair with a smug look on his face, dropped the front legs of his chair to the floor, his mouth open. “You think your Legos are more important than your family, man?”
“It’s a very special piece,” Sparky said. “You can’t get it easily.”
The other kids stared in disbelief.
A girl with bandages on her arms, obviously from cutting, kept wringing her hands. “Do you know how lucky you are to have a family that cares? And you think some damn toy is more important? Do you see my family here?”
It wasn’t long until all nineteen kids where talking and trying to convince Sparky how lucky he was to have a loving family and how wrong it is to think Legos are more important than living, breathing people. I marveled at these teens as their agitation grew and they pleaded harder with Sparky for him to see the error in his thinking. These kids were suffering their own kinds of horror and pain, yet they were totally shocked at my son’s obsession with Legos. At least two of them got so irritated they left the room.
I sat back and watched in amazement as these teens became increasingly fidgety, louder and more pleading, or even silently shocked. Sparky would not give up his position that his Legos were the most important thing. The counselors finally had to stop the group and insist everyone take a break, with the condition that we would no longer discuss Sparky and move on to another subject.
Out in the hall, one-by-one, the teens approached me, asked permission to shake my hand (as they were taught there) and pretty much stated their condolences. It was an experience I will never forget.
Five years later, Sparky still has trouble with this concept. People are just tools in his life.
He did get re-diagnosed while at UNI, and they diagnosed him with severe Anxiety Disorder, Autism and Depression. All of the stimulant drugs were pulled from him because they were driving him to extreme agitation. His hyper-focusing was a tool he used to control himself. He regrets his behavior and still goes through periods where he hates himself for the things he has done. I feel responsible and wonder what his childhood would have been like without him being on the drugs that were agitating him so severely from the age of two to sixteen.
When we go through a particularly difficult time with Sparky, I think about those teens—their awareness and understanding, their sorrow and pain, and I wonder what happened to them and if anyone is there for them now.
Ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value. ~Desmond Tutu
Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense...and Dogs!
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