by Nancy Thomas
I found myself leaning forward at the wheel squinting into the gaps left in the ice on my windshield by the worn out wipers. With my heart pounding in fear at each icy curve of the mountain highway, I glanced over at my son. His sixteen year old, six foot tall lanky body was leaning rigidly forward. With terror in his voice he repeated, “Mom, I hate this, I hate this!” Tired from the torturous seven hour drive I had behind me, and unsure of the road ahead as we climbed yet further up the Utah mountain they call Soldier Pass, I snapped at him, “You are not helping!”
The darkness surrounded my little station wagon as huge tractor trailers showered us with blinding sprays of muck and snow. My thoughts turned to how I had gotten into this mess. In my quest to find help for my son, born from my heart but not my body, I had tried many treatments to ease the torment he lived with. Asperger’s syndrome engulfed his thoughts in a tunnel of isolation and repetition like a squirrel on a wheel in his brain. We had found great healing progress from Holding Therapy, unlocking his heart until it could touch mine and feel the massive love I have for him. We had spent weeks in Denver healing the ear-brain misconnection at the Center for Inner Change with the Tomatis sound therapy. He had been to chiropractors to realign his stiff body and nutritionists to help heal his damaged digestive system. Now we were headed for the Cascade Center in Orem Utah for special Neurofeedback to repair the final sections of his wounded brain. With my body stiff from driving and my heart filled with fear and hope, I thought back to my decision to make this journey. I thought of another mom, my best friend, who had made this journey many, many times with her adopted son seeking the healing that he needed.
Bandy had worked to help her son for 13 years. Her soft, brown doe-like eyes filled my memory. The fire of her Portuguese ancestors had blazed in her eyes, so filled with determination months before, when I had said, “I think it’s time to give up on him. You have done enough.” I had been successful for over 20 years with kids who had killed. I had put myself in her place and found it unbearable, unendurable and saw no way for her to go on. As a young wife she had adopted this boy not knowing the agony he would bring into her life. Given no information about his first five weeks of life, she brought him into her home and into her heart.
She made him a priority, as any baby should be. She stayed home and rocked him, fed him, played with him and loved him until a family tragedy forced her to return to work and start life as a single mom when he was 18 months old. His behavior deteriorated until at four years old she took him to see his first psychiatrist. Medication and therapy seemed to ease some of his rages and destructiveness for a time. He was diagnosed, or should I say mis-diagnosed with ADD. She learned about parenting techniques and interventions for kids with that condition. He continued to sink into serious mental illness. In the next five years she sought help in vain with eight different psychiatrists and therapists, one psychiatric hospital stay, and six months in a residential treatment center or him. Seven different medications were tried and failed. She consistently followed each professional’s advice for six months to a year before moving on to search for the answers she had not found for her child.
I met Bandy when she signed up for one of the parenting classes I was teaching near my home in Glenwood Springs CO. Her son had been running away. She took his shoes to stop him. He ran with no shoes. She took his clothes. He ran in his underwear. She took his underwear. A new neighbor across the street called to let Bandy know that her naked son had climbed out the window. She shared my phone number with the distraught mother. That was a day that changed my life. That was the day I began to learn what unconditional love means. When he attacked her, she held him lovingly. When I said he needs more exercise that became her daily priority. When I taught in class about the importance of respect and responsibility she poured her heart and soul into it. What-ever Bandy found that would help her hurting son she would become a champion at doing. Her dedication was met with defiance and destruction. Her hugs and snuggles were met with urine and spit. Her loving eye contact was met with cold, hard, killing looks of rage. Her soft loving arms were met with his fists of fury. His self control finally began to build. He quit attacking her and began moving toward compliance and caring.
Bandy felt it was time to try school again. He had been too disturbed to be with other children, hurting and molesting them. She asked me to meet with her and the teachers before school began. I was honored to be asked to help and support this amazing woman and awesome mom. I explained to the two teachers about his diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and that he was having Holding Therapy and that Bandy was doing special therapeutic parenting at home very successfully. The two massive male teachers sat wide eyed and nodded as I had Jacob demonstrate “strong sitting”. This is a technique that helped him to calm himself. He proudly walked to his “think spot” lowered himself to a cross legged position on the rug, folded his hands in his lap and straightened his back tall and strong. Facing the wall, he proudly demonstrated his self control by sitting perfectly straight, still and quiet for ten minutes. His mom announced that his time was up and gave him a huge hug. I asked Jacob how he felt when he did strong sitting . He politely shared that at first he was very angry and then it helped him to feel better and calm himself. The teachers left the meeting agreeing to the interventions I had outlined to help this now 10 year old boy.
The first time Jacob tested in class by getting a rude attitude about a math project, the teacher proudly shared with his mom that evening that he had sent Jacob out for an extra recess to calm him down! The rest of the class did math while he went out to play because he was rude! Jacob had to test to see if he could trust the teacher. If he could outsmart, manipulate or con him, the teacher would fail. This teacher had failed. The next test was, of course, bigger and the next bigger until Jacob felt so unsafe he blew up. When a child with Attachment Disorder does not feel safe they usually take it out on the mom.
Jacob had not run away for over a year. He ran. He broke into two houses stealing guns out of one and scattering knives throughout the other. Bandy called me with her heart breaking and shared with me what had happened. We called the sheriff and I asked Bandy to come to my home to wait. Terror filled her eyes as I met her at the door. Terror for her son! When they collected him and the weapons we met them at the county jail. Jacob, showing no remorse, told the deputy that he was going to kill his mother because she was too loving! We watched them take him away and we drove off numb and stunned.
He was out of her care and in the care of social services for over a year. During that time he was moved from place to place with no appropriate treatment for his condition. He was given ineffective talk therapy and play therapy. Bandy’s huge heart was breaking as the residential treatment facilities continually refused to listen to her, treated her like she was ignorant as they continued to put her son in harms way. Watching her child grow sicker at each visit was devastating for her.
Her indomitable spirit took over. She knew that with the ineffective treatment he was receiving he could not heal. She knew that the success rate for children with RAD was much lower after puberty and that the clock was ticking. She knew he had tried to kill her and she knew she loved her son! She formed a plan. She gave up her home and moved into a small cabin to save money to get him the needed help. She made phone calls and dove into action. She told the facility she would be moving her son. They said he was not ready. She said “yes, I know”, and took him home. She doubled her efforts. She decided to have an Attachment Therapist, Deborah Hage, do a two week intensive session of Holding Therapy. Thousands of dollars were needed to get this treatment for her son. As a single mom, she had no financial resources to attain that kind of money. She signed up for 3 new credit cards and maxed them out. She was willing to make minimum payments for the rest of her life if it would save her boy.
The daily restraint battles the residential staff reported, due to his daily attacks on them, diminished to only two in the first few months he was home after his Intensive Holding therapy. The Community Evaluation Team agreed to help with funding for relief breaks from him with therapeutic respite. Family and friends sent small donations and cards of support as she threw more and more of her heart and soul into the saving of this angry child. He quit attacking people. He quit breaking things during rages. He began to trust her again and heal from the damage the school situation had caused. She added a powerful nutrition program designed by Diane Craft a skilled nutritionist with hundreds of successes in helping kids with behavior and attention problems. Months of work and therapy had moved him back from the animal behavior he had been demonstrating. Would he make it all the way?
His progress stopped. It just stopped. He was not attacking anyone, he did his chores and strong sitting but only with a lot of grumbling. Constant arguing about everything and a negative attitude continually plagued their relationship. A neurologist did an EEG and found he had a silent seizure disorder that is usually genetic or from marinating an infant in alcohol before they are born. A new Psychiatrist and a new medication were tried.
It helped some. Then we heard about Neurofeedback. More funds were needed, many more miles to be driven. He hated her and everything she did for him. He hated me for helping her. He hated himself. I said,” It is enough. It is time to have a life for you.” Those brown eyes of determination blazed in mine as she said, “I am taking him to Utah!”
So, here I am driving in a blinding blizzard with my heart filled with awe and amazement for this mom who would not quit, this mom, who fought for her son and won. I picture the two of them as they were when I drove away, arm in arm, two hearts now filled with the love she poured out to him. The sparkle in his eyes as he looked at his mom while she proudly shared with me the loving, respectful way he had been helpful around their home warms my heart as I drive on. Echos of her reports of his great progress at school and home fill my mind. I know his future, once headed for loneliness, poverty and probably prison, is now filled with the promise of love and success. The immense love she carries for her boy fills me with wonder as I follow in her love filled path up this mountain to help mine.