“Michael’s story” had been posted on my Facebook wall yesterday morning by one of my ministry colleagues while I was in church. This story has also been circulating under the title “I am Adam Lanza’s mother.” Here’s an excerpt…
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.
That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.
I’ve never seen in print a more accurate representation of the nature of the presenting problems or the level of despair of all too many families seeking help from our practice. I didn’t see any of the coverage of the Newtown shooting on Friday. The parents of the first kid on my schedule didn’t think it was worth the fight that would ensue if they tried to put him in the car and bring him to his appointment. I couldn’t take their call later in the day when he was removed from school for making threats because I was busy with another kid who was suspended after bringing a weapon to school.
When we experienced a school shooting in our home county earlier this year similar to the one that took place last Friday in Newtown, my first reaction was to drive up to my office, go to our file room and make sure the shooter hadn’t been one of ours. I probably have 15-20 kids in our practice with problems similar to “Michael’s.”
Kids like “Michael” get lost in discussions of “special needs ministry.” He’s “twice-exceptional”…intellectually gifted, but with a disability. His disability dominates every aspect of his family life. How do you think things would go if Michael made clear his desire to NOT get up for church on Sunday morning? This is a kid who needs extra protection from the forces of evil present in our culture. So what could you or your church do to help “Michael”…or other families like his-to experience the love of Christ? Here are some ideas…
- Be their friend. Having a kid like “Michael” can be very socially isolating. Take Dad (if he’s still in the picture) out for breakfast. Give Mom a call. Take her out for coffee.
- Offer to go with them or find someone to help advocate for them when they need to meet with the team at Michael’s school. To the uninitiated, the special education system is often bewildering. Having someone with knowledge of the services available to support parents through the process can be an incredible blessing.
- Offer to watch Michael (or his siblings) in order to give his parents needed respite. Kids like Michael, in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes with access to their preferred electronics and diversions may be less likely to become aggressive or violent than they would in an unfamiliar place…like a church. Liability may be less of a concern if parents are providing respite of their own accord as opposed to through a formal “program” in a church.
- Support them through practical acts of service. Michael’s mom might need someone to be available “on call” to pick up her other kids when she’s tied up at the hospital. Our colleague Libby Peterson has talked about picking up a mop when one of her friends with a child with special needs had to scrub the floor.
- Help families to access quality mental health services. For many families like Michael’s, having health insurance is no guarantee of being able to access the right help. Waiting lists for services are long. Qualified professionals are in very short supply. Home-based mental health services are nearly nonexistent in many communities. Appointments are too short.
Families such as Michael’s are the modern-day equivalent of the sick in second-century Rome. What a testimony to the power of the Gospel it would be for the church to care for kids like “Michael!”
Our team at Key Ministry appreciates the prayers and support of all our followers, but at this time of the year, we find ourselves very much in need of your financial support. It will cost approximately $80,000 to maintain the free training, consultations and support we offer to help connect churches with families impacted by disability. We’re currently $30,000 short of covering our expenses for 2016. Please consider making a personally significant gift to supporting the work of our ministry.
Best Wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year on behalf of the entire Key Ministry team!