Engaging young people in advocacy, education & prevention
Creating social change around alcohol, drugs, and more

Racing the clock — a parent's story

September 17, 2009 4:02 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Introduction by Katherine Kasmir, Project Director of Straight Up:

In my work with Straight Up, I have many opportunities to speak with parents, especially after our Reality Parties, and to hear their stories of the trials, tragedies, recovery and hope for their teens. The Straight Up blog is a great place for parents to share their experiences, express their opinions, ask each other questions and discuss these important issues.

We really appreciate the following story, shared by a Ventura County parent. I hope we will hear from others willing to share both the struggles and the joys of parenting teens. Thank you!

My son has received special education services since kindergarten. He very much struggles with Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He also has always had difficulty making and keeping friends. It’s a challenge for him to read social cues and understand the nuance of compromise and give and take. We tried everything we could think of to help. He was involved in youth groups at our temple, played soccer, took art classes, arranged play dates and really courted the child with home baked cookies and a yummy meal. Our son also participated in social skill classes from 2nd Grade up through the 10th Grade. This was in conjunction with the speech, special education department in our school district. Unfortunately there was little transfer to real life situations from the classes or much improvement resulting from our other efforts. Our son saw a therapist at different times, but each time the therapist said our son wasn’t getting anything from it due to his lack of introspection and awareness.

So, after a great deal of peer rejection, our son finally found peer acceptance from the children drinking and using drugs. This dangerous behavior took care of his peer acceptance issue and also numbed his pain from all his struggles rather well.

We were parents who made sure one of us was home every day when our son returned from school. We were well aware of the trouble that can occur during that bewitching time — after school until parents return from work. Despite all our efforts, our son began some serious drinking and drug use. He would ditch school to join others in his efforts. He was stealing alcohol, rather easily, from the local drug store. He used this as a bargaining chip to impress others and trade for other drugs. Our son distinguished himself by being the crazy drug kid. He would take anything given him, and they would say he was crazy. He enjoyed this special attention. He would also say he was going to Buena to skateboard with his little friend, only to wind up at a party whose location was a mystery to us. On the two occasions when our son didn’t come home at all, or the three times he came home very late, we called the police and filed a missing person’s report. Ventura Police Department has a protocol to visit the child at home upon their return. We were extremely fortunate to have an amazing officer answer our call several of those times. When our son was a little aggressive (pushing over a lamp or pushing my husband,) this officer came to our home and put the fear of G-D into my son about juvenile hall. This was effective with that matter.

However, the drug use continued. He was a senior in high school. He was ahead in credits but began failing his two academic classes. We really didn’t know what to do. We often spoke with the vice principal and all our son’s teachers. They were always concerned, but none of us seemed to have a solution. We attended a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting with our son. He sat with his arms crossed and didn’t participate at all. He also attended afternoon Palmer Drug Abuse Program meetings. This was also unsuccessful. He would often get home from school too late to go.

We were desperate. We knew it was only a matter of time until our son killed himself with all these dangerous behaviors. We had no idea which way to turn. We spoke with our family doctor and anyone else we could think of for a suggestion. We finally learned of a rehabilitation program at a place nearby in Southern California. Our insurance paid for two and a half weeks — for detox but not rehabilitation. He got a good start there. He began to see the value of the NA meetings they attended daily. He also received a fair amount of therapy. There was a little schooling going on, but that wasn’t the emphasis. We felt he got a good start there, but he was far from recovery.

After a week of all day, every day research, we learned of a therapeutic boarding school in Idaho. It turns out that there are many, many of these facilities. Our son was 17 years old at the time about to turn 18. That limited our choices greatly. Of course they are free to walk away at 18. This school seemed to have a reputation for 18 year-olds staying after their 18th birthdays to finish the year-long program. We took a motel room in Long Beach on the day we picked up our son from Center for Discovery. We had made the arrangements for the new school. We hadn’t seen the school and really wanted to see it first. However, there wasn’t time for that. We were afraid if we took our son would get angry that he wasn’t going home and take off. We weren’t willing to take that chance. We hired a teen transport service. We had no idea any of this existed. He enjoyed the company of the two gentleman and arrived safely at the school.

I’ll tell you, he was extremely angry at us for plucking him out of his regular life and sticking him in the wilderness of Northern Idaho. We understood this. He was assigned a therapist. He receives group therapy 5 days a week. The size and focus of the groups changes to meet the needs of the students. There are 29 children at the school presently. There are four girls and twenty-five boys. Our son receives one on one therapy once a week and then we have family therapy once week on the phone. Our son is in his therapist’s office on a speaker phone, and my husband and I are on our home phone with the extension phone. The school has very small classes. Our son has been at the school for seven months and it has been incredibly wonderful. The staff is superb and committed to each and every child. Our son has grown in so many ways. He still has a lot of work to do and we profoundly hope he will get where he needs to be by December when he graduates. He turned 18 in January and seems committed to finishing the program. We have visited three times now. We couldn’t be more pleased with the school. They are doing everything possible and with such skill to help our son transition into adulthood. There’s a big emphasis on college and our son is looking at different college options.

The school is horrifically expensive and we never thought we could afford it. My husband and I are both teachers. We are blessed to have a very close friend loan us the money. We would take out student loans or whatever would be necessary to keep our son in this very healthy school. Of course we will be in debt for many, many years, but what is the alternative?

“J” is a parent in Ventura County.