Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Tough Choice

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Tough Choice

Article excerpt

When Andy was born, our pediatrician advised us to "treat your baby like any other child" in spite of his Down syndrome, so we assumed Andy would spend his childhood in our home and then work in the community where we live. Andy attended an integrated preschool and elementary school and the YMCA welcomed him into their after-school day-care program, including him in basketball and swimming lessons for young children.

All Was Not Well

But when Andy was in third grade, he let us know that all was not well. Day after day, his teacher and classroom aide reported that he was withdrawing when other children tried to become his friends. He hung his head whenever I asked about it. As the year progressed, Andy began refusing to do his modified schoolwork. Instead, he demanded the exact same work his classmates were doing, even though he had no hope of understanding it. When I asked him how school was going, his frequent reply was, "I'm not smart, Mom." Often, he would shuffle to and from school, head down, looking sad. We took him to visit a child psychiatrist who felt that Andy was depressed. He started Andy on medication on a trial basis.

Andy's teacher tried to help him work on self-esteem issues. Every day, he was supposed to write about at least one good thing he had done that day, but he usually refused. His aide helped him write stories about the pets brought in from the high-school animal lab, attempting to get him to relate to animals if people were too smart or too quick for him. Andy loved the pets and the books but he still withdrew from his peers. He sat in the road on several occasions, saying he wanted to die.

As his depression worsened, Andy began destroying things he knew each of us cherished. He took a model his brother Chris had been working on and stomped it flat. Two days later, he pushed my husband Carter's word processor off its stand, breaking the monitor. The next morning, he scratched my new car and then left the door open so that the light would run down the battery. Our cheerful preschooler had become a very, very angry nine-year-old.

Running Away

Then he started running away. At first he said, "I want to see the trains," and we believed him because he usually ended up near the train tracks about two miles from our home. We took him for a train ride on his birthday, with the understanding that he would not run away to the trains again. Two hours after we returned, he disappeared. This time a neighbor found him riding his bicycle against traffic on a very busy street a mile from home. During the next two weeks, he escaped five times to play in the busy street. When we locked him in his room at night, he cut his screen and jumped out the window. When I tried to talk to him about how dangerous his behavior had become, he only laughed.

On a day that gave me nightmares for weeks, a car sped into our driveway. I ran out in time to hear the driver shout, "Andy's riding in the middle of the highway and I can't get him to pull over!" Carter and I jumped into our respective cars. I spotted him first, riding straight into the oncoming cars. I pulled over and screamed," Andy, get over here!" Grinning, Andy went around me and narrowly missed being hit by Carter. Something inside me snapped and my memory of how we got Andy over to the side of the road is completely blank. The next thing I remember is loading his bike into the back of the station wagon.

We hung his "wheels" from a hook in the garage, but six hours later, while we thought he was in bed sleeping, he released the chain locks on our doors, ran barefoot to the highway and was standing in the middle of it when the police called. By 5:30 the next morning, Andy had run away again, this time nearly getting hit by a bus. He laughed when I tried to convince him that he could have been killed. He appeared not to believe me. Or perhaps his anger had turned inward. …

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