I am a cynic. I understand this about myself. I do not understand for one minute how, in all good conscience, a family ‘takes a custody break’ from their son and brother. I am not naive; I have seen aggressive, assaultive, sometimes self-injurious behaviors by the adult developmentally-challenged residents in my workplace, and know how behaviors in Autistics can quickly spiral out of control. A lot of the behaviors I have witnessed a a result of poorly maintained coping mechanisms, others attributed to attention-seeking, and some are outright random in nature. My workplace is a state-run residential facility; some have told me this is “where you go when you have no where else to go”. This is where so many adults with MR end up if the legal system finds that a correctional facility is the wrong setting; there are however, some who have been placed here voluntarily. And once someone is in the state system, it is often difficult to leave it.
That’s what I don’t really understand about this story, and perhaps it’s because it leaves many unanswered questions. Having a child on the Spectrum who becomes physically bigger and stronger is something we can all commiserate with. Couple that with either older parents and younger siblings, or both, and I can understand the inherently worn-down feeling that can result. I don’t understand how the family in this story handled, or failed to handle this young man’s behaviors; what interventions were tried: psychotherapy, medications, biofeedback, art therapy, music therapy, weighted vests, etc. How did simply changing homes redirect this young man? How is it that this foster mother was able to learn about what made this boy tick, but his own family could not?
The nature of the foster parent programs in most states are a 50-50 proposition at best; I don’t need to go on about many of the horror stories associated with less-than-diligent foster parents and their charges. Let’s face it: this young man was extremely lucky to be paired up with a caring and motivated foster parent.
I am glad things worked out well for this young man, and in the end that’s the most important thing.
One of the lesser things is the feeling I got after reading this story: a feeling that briefly, and perhaps selfishly, this young man’s family gave up on him. They gave him over to the state to try to ‘fix the situation’ they couldn’t handle; basically counselling and medication that they couldn’t afford. At a time when stories abound about how families uproot themselves to live in locales that are more service-oriented to those on the Spectrum, I find it odd that they couldn’t enlist the aid of a social worker or find another avenue to get their son what he needed. I remember a few years ago when we were researching out-of-district schools that might be good placement options for my son. At one point I would have rented an apartment within a certain school district to comply with their residency requirements. I know parents who have sent their children to out-of-state camps and schools and agonized over those decisions but did so.
I don’t think I would have ever relinquished parental custody of my son over to someone else though.
I wish this story was more complete, and was able to answer these questions. I wish it didn’t leave me with a bad taste in my mouth about this boy’s family. I hope he doesn’t end up resenting their actions, or become confused by what ‘a loving home’ should be. But I’m cynical like that. -Ed
Child says his foster mother is “the one that brought me back home.”
For some autistic children in state custody, leaving their parents means finding a new home with a foster family.“The thing that made me come here is I almost burned the house down,” 12-year-old Michael Chambers said recently, sitting in his foster home in Eagle Mountain.He was upset that he couldn’t watch TV and lit a paper airplane on fire, not thinking about the consequences. Then he tried to stomp it out and threw it in a closet, where it burned out.
“I was so mad I was not focusing on what I was doing,” he recalled.
But it was far more than that one incident, said his mom, Melissia Chambers. He choked his younger brother, hit his older sister and hid things from his parents, even stealing from them. They couldn’t control him.
“We told him that Mommy and Daddy and his brother and sister, we loved him, but we needed a break from his behavior,” she said. “We needed to know that he was safe and we were safe.”
His foster mom, Patti Jiordano, 61, said she has not let Michael dwell on the diagnosis during his more than two years in foster care.
“I tell him he’s a nice little boy who thinks a little different,” she said. “He has to learn to think right — I don’t let him use it as an excuse.” He receives both weekly counseling and medication, which his family couldn’t afford.
Michael credits Jiordano for much of his growth, whether it’s learning not to slam doors or practicing how to stay calm with deep breathing.
After Michael moved into her house, she taught herself everything she could about autism by talking with friends who are teachers, and reading books and the Internet. Through trial and error, she figured out what worked for Michael.
The skittish kid who showed up at her house, unable to make eye contact, can now show a stranger a composition book filled with his drawings of superheroes.
“I’ll remember Patti all my life,” he said. “She’s the one that brought me back home.”
Michael wants to live with his family again but acknowledges he’s gotten used to his new life. His mother hopes to see them reunited by the end of the year.
The Chambers have learned techniques from Jiordano and family therapy that they hope will help Michael succeed at home.
“It was the hardest decision that we ever had to make,” his mother said, “but I know now without a shadow of a doubt it was the best decision we ever made.”