Friday, August 26, 2011

Capable or Not, Does it Matter?

Over the years that I've been blogging, I've received a number of conflicting opinions about the root of Danielle's behavioral problems.  Here are a couple of recent comments that reflect those opinions.

In response to The Doctor Medicates, Lisel wrote:

Why do people suppose that she CAN make choices? Perhaps all this irrational behavious is simply the expression of deep emotional/psychologic disturbance that may or may not be caused by abuse?

Why do the doctors not try to understand what is behind the behaviours? Dissociation? Psychosis? Anxieties? 

In response to Sometimes, Sorry Just Ain't Enough, LK wrote:

Unfortunately the only real solution would get you into trouble.

You can buy into the bleeding heart, it's only a child, psycho-babble BS all you want, but the reality is that it's a disciplinary problem.

Kids need to learn respect. It's as simple as that. Some learn easier than others. Parents didn't have these kinds of problems with their kids back in the old days when the fear of God and the fear of Parents was the general rule of thumb.

When I was in school, there was no such thing as ADHD and the teachers had control of the classrooms. Why is that?

This is not advocating for child abuse, it's just stating the fact that there are kids out there who deserve a good ass whooping every now and then. 

Two very different opinions here.  One that presupposes children like Danielle are not capable of controlling and managing their behavior, and one that presupposes that they can.

Which is it? Does it matter?

I would argue that, at least in terms of the quality of a young adult's life, the answer doesn't matter.  When a child reaches adulthood he will be held to a higher standard of behavior, and if he can't comply, the natural consequences will likely result in things like joblessness, homelessness or incarceration.

Although people like Kari make some very good arguments about how schools, employers, the law,  and the community at large should make accommodations for people with brain impairments like FASD, the reality is that our society doesn't make those accommodations.  Our culture has a very strong sink-or-swim mentality, and the safety nets put in place for the poor, the weak, the elderly and the disabled are very much lacking.

People who lie, cheat, steal, throw temper tantrums, make threats, or become violent will face social, financial and legal consequences.  If a person is convicted of a crime, the legal system doesn't spend a whole lot of time focusing on why the crime was committed.  It evaluates the person's past history, the likelihood of re-offense, and it passes judgement based on those factors.  Although a judge might be willing to go easy on an offender with FASD for the first or second, offense eventually the patience of the court will wear thin.

I argue, because our society and legal justice system really doesn't care if a person is impaired or not, that the question of capability is irrelevant.

If children grow up to be anti-social or violent, they will suffer the consequences.  That's it.  Maybe it isn't how our society should be, maybe it's not how our justice system should operate, but it's the reality.  Either you can live within societal expectations and laws or you can't.

I think treating impaired children, even if they have emotional or physical challenges, as incapable does them a great disservice.  Yes, we should provide them with supports, yes we should be understanding, but at the end of the day if our kids aren't doing the things that enable them to live peaceably and successfully in society, we shouldn't excuse them or give them a pass on the consequences.

How many times should emotionally or physically damaged children be given a pass on their out of control behavior?  Once?  Twice?  A dozen times?  What about kids like the Georgia boy who murdered his grandmother?  Where do you draw the line?

I ask myself this question all the time when I am faced with my child's struggles.  How long should parents be forced to endure verbal, emotional or physical abuse in their homes?  My child regularly threatens to kill me, my wife, my pets, and herself.  She has hurt us, hurt herself, and tried to injure our pets.  We've asked begged for help, and yet the system that's supposed to step forward to help us has given us very little in the way of support.

So does it matter if our child is indeed capable of doing better?  I argue not, because once she becomes an adult, the legal system won't care.  If she abuses her friends, her employers, her spouse or her children, in the way that she's treated us, at best she'll find herself without relationships, housing and a job.  At worst, she'll find herself incarcerated.

Will the doctor's powerful tongue-lashing have any lasting effect on Danielle's behavior?  Perhaps not.  Will the consequences of her behavior at respite make any lasting mark on her psyche?  I have no idea.  What I do know is that as she ages, people will become less and less tolerant of her abuse, and the consequences of her actions will become more costly.

Whether Danielle has emotional problems, a brain impairment, or just a bad case of teenage cranial-rectal inversion, it doesn't matter.  Her behavior is what it is, and the consequences are what they are.  I won't go to my friends and beg them to reconsider.  Honestly, after everything that happened, I don't blame them for their decision one tiny bit.

Do I have sympathy and empathy for my child?  Yes, but that sympathy and empathy is becoming tempered by the fact that my wife and I are extremely tired of her verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.  We shouldn't have to live in a home where our physical safety, our pets and our possessions are regularly threatened.

We shouldn't have to live this way.  Nobody should have to live this way.

But the sad thing is adoptive parents have to live this way, or they can face criminal charges for abandoning their children* if they decide to relinquish their kids because they cannot manage behaviors at home.  There should be other alternatives, but they do not exist.

In the end, I think shielding Danielle from the consequences of her behavior does her a great disservice.  If she is capable of learning (which I believe that she is) she needs to understand that her actions have consequences.  Assuming, even for one second, that she isn't capable of learning does her a disservice, because it denies her the opportunity to learn if she can.  If she's truly not capable of understanding and controlling herself, it won't matter, because she'll still face the same legal consequences she would face if she were capable and simply chose not to control herself.

The sad truth is that adulthood is a hard, cold, cruel time, and people stop being so quick to forgive and willing to say the phrase, "but she's only a child!"

* Hat tip to La estudiante de vida for the link.


  1. I like the term cranial-rectal inversion and I'm going to have to steal it. At the psych intake after failed respite in upstate NY, the ER doc asked if I had any other concerns. "Yeah, what can you do about the extreme rigidity of his middle digits?" She looked confused for a moment and then started laughing. It appears my son thinks "flying the bird" is a weapon of mass destruction.

  2. I agree with you 100%. I have had ZERO luck when it comes to convincing the doctors my son has been seen by (many, many over the years) that while I am seriously concerned about his behaviors AT THIS MOMENT, that I am also doing what I do because I cannot ignore the long term impact of these same behaviors. He is skinny as a rail and eats like he hasn't been fed in months at every.single.meal. While we have pursued medical answers for this issue all this life (since he was a 9 mo old "failure to thrive" baby in foster care - he's 17 now), there seem to be none forthcoming. So, our son eats and eats and eats and will NEVER say he's full. He will eat until he cannot move and still not admit it. This type of behavior makes me concerned that while it's "only food" now, that the addiction he has to it will carry over into other things like smoking, drinking and drugs. The doctors agree, but still dismiss it and will not address the behavior since he's so skinny. If he were obese it might make a difference. Well, here's a question then, if my son refuses to work to earn money to feed himself as an adult (and we are assured he is refusing to do this) and he ends up eating at a homeless shelter - his plan - are they going to feed him 5 sandwiches for lunch because that's how much we feed him? Are they going to feed him as much as he feels he deserves or are they going to give him 1 or 2 sandwiches and send him on his way to beg somewhere else? Is he going to burn bridges at every food bank in town because of his food addiction? Is he going to rob stores or homes because of this addiction? I can see it happening. When he's incarcerated for stealing and they're feeding him 3 free meals a day, will they then report back to the doctor that there is something really wrong with this inmate and something will finally be done? I am sick to death of feeling ignored and minimized by these doctors. The fact that you have been trying for so long to get your dr. to prescribe meds to even attempt to manage Danielle's behaviors makes me want to scream!! The only thing meds do for my son is help him be less violent. Yes, he's still always toe to line with his behaviors and the only security we have is that he won't pull his crap when shadowed by my husband every second of the day - but compared to a few years ago when he went to the hospital and came out with a rainbow of cuss words at his disposal and behaviors to match - we are living GOOD. I tell my kids all the time - "the world does NOT have to put up with that from you, you will NOT get 100 chances to do the right thing, no one HAS to put up with that crap outside of this house". The sad reality is that without the appropriate services we DO have to put up with this crap - and the kids know it.

  3. Well, but, if you want to medicate her, this would also imply that you think she CANNOT hold it together without medication. So where is the difference between your point of view and mine?

    I think originally it was a good idea to speak of "CHOICES", because it meant to the children that they are not their acts.

    It was meant to tell them: you screwed up once, but this does not mean that you have screw up every time. We do not like the way you act, but we still like you as a person.

    However, I now get the impression that the use of the word "CHOICES" has evolved. It is used to indicate that everyone is responsible for his actions and that the bad behaviour was done on purpose, since it implies that the person could have chose to do otherwise.

    I do not believe that your daughter's behaviour is a CHOICE in this sense of the term.

    I think it is more about she lost it or never learned how to hold it together. So I think that an approach trying to deal with why she looses it could be more beneficial than a pure behavioural approach.

    Sadly, therapists who know to delve into those kinds of problems seem to be few and far between. And it might not work for everyone.


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