There is Hope

My son is on the autism spectrum. He had challenging behaviors from the beginning. I called him a tiger cub. As he grew older he became increasingly difficult to handle. Never at school - but most of the time at home and prone to unpredictable violent outbursts in the community.

 

My husband died in 2000 when our son was 4. We had 1 daughter in college and another in high school. Life became overwhelming.

 

Thanks to great schools and many supporting agencies in the state where we lived at the time, my son thrived in every area except behavior at home. In 2007, hoping family support would help, we moved to SC to be near aunts, uncles & cousins. My son entered his teens, grew taller & stronger. I struggled through each day on the verge of exhaustion. Family tried to be helpful but were understandably anxious around him.

 

The night our world came to an end, he attacked me for no reason I've ever been able to figure out. It was out of the blue. And it was awful. He pinned me to the kitchen counter pounding me with his fists while kicking one of my knees repeatedly so hard I thought he would break it. When I was able to get away from him I locked myself in my bathroom; he kicked the door down. Finally I was able to get a phone to call 911. What an awful thing to have to do. What a failure as a mother I was.

 

His psychiatrist told the medics to take him to MUSC's ER. We waited 4 hours on a gurney lying together, me with my arms around my sweet baby. Both of us in shock.

 

He was admitted to the children's floor for psychiatric treatment floor at 3 am. Friends from my church brought me home to an empty house, a tidal wave of guilt and the agonizing question: "What happens now?"

 

MUSC recommended residential placement. My heart broke. I could be a better mother. I couldn't possibly send my child away to "an institution". Only people who don't love their children do that.

 

A week of loving, gentle support from my church family helped me realize that my son needed much more than I could or would ever be able to give him. A few days later his DDSN Case Manager called with news that a place called Willowglen Academy had an opening.

 

One of my daughters flew down from Virginia and we made the sad journey to Willowglen together.

 

Fast forward to today: my son is happy, well behaved, calm, loving and able to manage himself when something upsets him by telling me he needs to be alone for awhile.

 

I've heard that a staff member at the PRTF asked once "Why is he here?". He had learned to control his behavior.

 

It didn't change overnight; he learned the point system (don't know what term you use) and would tell me every day what level he was on. He also knew what level his friends were on, saying "I told______ he can't do that. He'll lose his level."

 

The staff working with him were outstanding. We are still in touch with several of them. They were calm & soft spoken whereas "type A mom" just isn't made that way. They were endlessly patient, quietly redirecting & quick to notice and praise his every little success. In my exhaustion and frustration I had too often taken good behavior as "the way things should be". Looking back I wonder if I ever praised appropriate behavior....

 

As much as home was where he wanted to be, I was relieved and reassured by how happily he returned to the PRTF after home visits. As we walked down the hall, the other children all knew him, welcoming him back with "high 5's" and "how was your home visit?" He'd start grinning, making his way past his friends like royalty. It was clear he felt safe, accepted and cared for.

 

I still cried every time I drove home alone. But I also marveled at the transformation that was taking place.

 

Willowglen is one of the best things that ever happened to our family. It took in an angry, unpredictable, destructive, dangerous child and gave me a well mannered, sweet young man who everybody loves. How does a grateful mother repay a debt like that?

 

I can't, of course, but I take every opportunity to tell moms in the midst of the storm that I've been there too. And then God blessed us with Willowglen. I know placing your child in a PRTF is one of the most difficult decisions any mother will ever have to make. But I also know it was life changing for us.

 

There is hope for your child and your family. In South Carolina, it is called Willowglen.