This is rewritten from a story about my son, which was published in a book, in 1983.
Only once in all these years have I found the problems of one of my children to outweigh the rewards - at least for a time. Even this son's story has a happy ending, but I believe there are others like him still waiting, and his story may encourage someone to look a bit more openly at a child more difficult than one initially considered. This son, Chad Ryan, came to me as a foster child. He gave me the most grief, the most frustration, and the biggest challenge. But he also taught me patience, and the greatest sense of accomplishment when he finally began to overcome his emotional problems. I'm convinced he never could have overcome these difficulties without the stability, love, and discipline of a forever family.
Chad burst upon the scene like a small tornado. At age five he screamed like a hyena, hopped on his knees and one usable hand much like a galloping kangaroo, and basically didn't act much like any human being I'd ever seen before. He was hyperactive, couldn't walk, wasn't toilet trained, couldn't understand words or talk much besides yelling "no!" I was given very little information about Chad. I was told he had cerebral palsy, was retarded, and couldn't use his right hand. No big deal, I thought - I'd seen those problems before. Little did I know what I was in for!
I later found out his IQ was 33, and his problems were due to a severe head injury and brain hemorrhage at two months old. I found out long after I got him, that he had already been through every two parent foster family in the north end of the city where we lived. His caseworker told me that quite a search was made for a two parent home for Chad, but there were no more. Workers were certain it would take two parents to cope with him. Truthfully though, I believe that no marriage could have survived under the strain. The report said he needed a mother with a lot of energy. That's me, I thought. I found out it wasn't just energy Chad's mom needed. Tons of patience and persistence were necessary too.
At five, Chad was the size of a three year old. His intense blue eyes gave no indication of how little was going on inside his head. He looked normal and even angelic. He learned a few questions - his speech was clear and perfect. But he didn't know what he was saying. When I tried to answer his questions, he'd explode in frustration, screaming and pounding the floor and hopping wildly in circles. After a year of such behavior I decided his reactions were because he knew words were supposed to make sense, and they didn't to him. So he was miserable. His entire vocabulary was: "Where are you mommy?" "What time is it?" "Where is your car?" "I love you mommy," and "no!" The first time I took him to Sears to buy clothes, he saw a man, and hopping over to him, grabbed him by the legs, hollering "I wuv you, daddy!" The poor man looked at me in horror, like "not me! I've never seen you before, lady!" I wanted to drop through the floor! I took him in a stroller ever after that, until he got his first wheelchair!
He let out a piercing, bloodcurdling scream every few minutes, all day, every day, for no reason. He repeated his four questions dozens of times a day. He chewed his useless hand and violently sucked his good thumb almost all the time. He actually sucked his thumbnail clear off twice! It was very slow to grow back. Toys were only to chew and throw. Baby sister Skyla's head was to bite hard when she was nearby. His unusable right hand was to slap and scream at. Rugs and quilts were to urinate on when he was angry; he was angry all the time, and self-abusive. He also masturbated every day, many times, in front of my other children. I was forever sending him to his room, telling him you don't do that in public. That is a private thing to do. This made me terribly angry, when he did it in front of my little daughter. I don't think it bothered her nearly as much as it bothered me!
Chad really hated himself. He would bite his useless hand viciously, and scream at it "you bad hand!" "You dumb hand!" "WORK!" If he caught sight of himself in a mirror, he would turn away instantly. It was obvious that a part of his brain that had started out normal, was still working. Just one. I could tell he knew he was supposed to be different, and could not reconcile himself to being who he was. That made me so sad for him. I never had a single other child who was frustrated with themselves like this. I'll never know how he came to feel that way. Did someone taunt him for being inferior? Did someone think he could make that hand work if he tried hard enough? Poor little boy.
I wondered a lot whether I should give up on Chad. I worried about whether I was damaging my other children by spending so much time trying to reach this son, to teach him something and find something in him to love. He loved me though. How could I give up on him, when everybody else had, knowing that a large part of his problems were because of terrible insecurity. He'd been in too many homes; not one could stand him more than nine months. The one home that kept him that long, I found out later, closed down for foster care after Chad left. He seemed terrified to let me out of his sight, probably for fear he'd be transported to another home - he seemed sure we were going to leave him if he lost sight of me for a moment.
When I got Chad, his longest attention span was 30 seconds. His school's goal was to increase that goal to 60 seconds. One year's worth of effort to get him to pay attention for one minute. Sending him to school almost drove me crazy. Every weekday morning he would scream and cry because he didn't want to go to school. Every weekend morning he would scream and cry because the school bus didn't come. Oh, how I wish he had had medication back then! We would all have had a happier life. But I was not offered any, and I did not know to ask.
Close to the end of our first year together, I decided it just wasn't fair to my own children, to be disrupted by this screaming little boy, who gobbled up so much of my time and attention. I was so discouraged, and thought I was never going to be able to change him enough so he could act like a regular little boy. I couldn't say it out loud, so I wrote a letter explaining why I just couldn't keep him any more. But before the letter even had a chance to get anywhere, my conscience was on fire. I couldn't stand what it would do to this little boy, to be given up on again. I just couldn't stand it. I saw that I was going to have to tough it out, and pray harder for him to be able to learn to behave himself. So I wrote another one, saying just that. I could not bear to throw him away. And I kept on going.