Friday, June 17, 2011

The danger of quack therapies and rushing to judgement.

A friend of mine shared an article with me today - it's a truly tragic story of a family that was nearly destroyed because of false allegations, shoddy investigation, a completely discredited autism "therapy" and a nearly criminal lack of understanding of the communication problems of a severely autistic child.

The story is about the Wendrow family of Michigan, and you can read the full 5 part Detroit Free Press piece here. It's the story of a family nearly destroyed because of allegations that the father raped and sexually abused his severely autistic daughter. These allegations were made based on the use of facilitated communication.

For those of you that don't know what facilitated communication (FC for short) is, it's the use of a keyboard and a facilitator (person) to help someone with severe autism who is non-verbal communicate. The facilitator supports the users wrist and helps guide their hand to the keys that they want to hit, so that the user can type and communicate.

FC is different from assistive communication devices. An assistive communication device is a keyboard or screen with whole words or pictures on it that the user can press buttons for to communicate what they want. It's what Kanzi the Bonobo Chimp uses to communicate. My own son used one when he was a toddler, along with a picture exchange communication system and sign language to communicate with me. An assistive communication device is operated entirely by the user, with no other assistance than to make sure the user is able to reach the device. With assistive communication devices, the user has to be able to recognize that a picture or word is representative of what they want to communicate. Communication requires the ability to attach meaning to symbols, gestures, expressions, words or images, and to use those to transmit information.

The problem with FC, is that every time the technology has been subjected to testing it has failed miserably. When an FC user (someone with severe autism, or in whats' classified as a persistent vegetative state)is asked a question with the facilitator in the room, the user is able to give a correct answer. When the facilitator is required to leave the room, not hear the question that's asked, and then come in and support the users hand to answer the question, the answer is incorrect. In other words, whether it's conscious or not on the part of the facilitator, they are guiding the users hand and answering FOR them. FC was considered for a time to be a major breakthrough for people with communication disorders, but it was proven in multiple studies over the past 15 years to be nothing more than junk science. In the case of this particular family, the daughter who was alleged to have made accusations of sexual abuse against her father and brother was not even able to answer yes/no questions by pointing to the words on large cards laid out in front of her. In later testing, her communication skills, both receptive and expressive, were found to be at the level of a 1 year old infant.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Association on Mental Retardation, and American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have all issued policies stating that the technology is not valid, and that it should never be used to confirm or deny allegations of abuse, nor should FC be used as a diagnostic tool under ANY circumstances.

There were several cases in the 1990's where allegations of physical and sexual abuse were made, based on information obtained through the use of FC, and with NO other evidence of any kind to support the allegations. Families were split up, children were put into foster care, parents put in jail until the FC was proven to be false.

In the case of the Wendrow family their 13 year old son, who has Aspergers syndrome was questioned for 2 hours, without his parents, court appointed guardian or an attorney present, was subjected to graphic descriptions of the abuse his father supposedly committed, was accused of being a participant in the sexual abuse of his sister, was lied to by the police (told they had DNA evidence of the abuse and video tape of him abusing his sister), and ended up being placed in a facility for juvenile delinquents for several months.

The thing you have to understand is that this was all based on statements that were supposedly made by the daughter through the use of facilitated communication, when she was assisted by the SAME FACILITATOR EACH TIME. There was NO physical evidence of sexual abuse, there were no video tapes, no DNA, the girls hymen was still intact!

Reading this article reminded me of the McMartin preschoolabuse allegations, and all of the other day care center abuse allegations in the 1980's. What bothers me so much about this particular case though, is the fact that the technology used to make the accusation had been debunked for well over a decade. Why is it that NOBODY in the prosecutors office bothered to check into that? Why is it that when they were told repeatedly by the sexual assault nurse examiner who examined the child that there was no evidence of abuse, they still continued to pursue the investigation? Why, even though they had an alleged victim with severe autism, did they let an investigator who had never handled a sexual abuse case before take the lead on the investigation.

Why now, after the case has been found to be completely without merit, and all charges have been dropped, has nobody from the prosecutors office ever once acknowledged ANY wrongdoing, or apologized to the family that is still healing from what was done to them.

It's appalling.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

If I say I'm stressed about blogging can I get pill for that?

Yeah, I can hear some of you (Jan I'm looking at you...) getting ready to get mad at me again. Because the title should have been a dead giveaway as to what's on my mind right now.

We had yet ANOTHER client caught red handed forging scripts for benzodiazepines, using multiple pharmacies, and generally making a criminal out of herself. It's ridiculous - the level of benzo abuse, prescription drug abuse that we're seeing on a day to day basis is staggering, and it's only getting worse.

Did you know that one of the top 2 causes of accidental death in young adults is prescription drug overdose, (which is classified as unintentional poisoning) ? Not sports injury, not motor vehicle accidents, it's pills they get from their doctors. Pain pills and anti-anxiety medicine.

Why is this? Why are people in their late teens up into their 50's having so much anxiety that they have to take powerfully addictive, sedating medication on a daily basis to deal with it? Is life that much more difficult to deal with than it was say 20 years ago? Are we really under THAT much stress?

I don't think so. I think that by and large we've become a culture of people who throw up their hands at most challenges and want somebody to "fix it for me".

Tell me what to do, where to go, what to eat, think for me, give me a pill so I don't have to feel. Give me another pill so when that pill wears off I don't feel it, and another one so when I'm sleepy from the first pill I can wake up. Oh, and don't forget one to help me fall asleep when the pill I took to wake up makes me to jittery to fall asleep. It's ridiculous - we've become a culture of people who are completely lacking in any kind of coping skills.

I've written here before about depression and anxiety.. I've been through 3 major depressive episodes over the past 12 years, and I was on medication for all 3 episodes, because I needed it to help relieve the symptoms enough for me to be able to work through what triggered the depression in the first place. The last episode of depression also came with a whopping does of anxiety (PTSD from having my home robbed while my eldest son was here). I'm not ashamed to say that I had panic attacks and insomnia, and that they were so severe that I needed medication to be able to work and to sleep. I took the medicine, I saw a counselor, and I worked through what I needed to so that I could cope with the experience, resolve the anxiety, and STOP having to take the xanax!

What I DIDN'T do was turn a medication that was intended to help me work through an emotional mess into a lifestyle, or into a crutch to help me avoid feeling anything at all. I didn't expect someone else to solve all of my problems for me. I knew that I had some long, hard emotional work to do, I committed to it and I did it. I stumbled and fell a few times, I got into a very brief but HORRIBLY destructive relationship, but I kept getting up, and kept dealing with the emotional work at hand. I HAD to, doing this was the only way to heal myself, and to be healthy and whole for my kids.

I get so frustrated with my clients sometimes - I want to tell them "You're not ANY different than me, if I can get through what life has thrown at me so can you". I'm not talking about the clients who are seriously ill, not the clients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, I'm talking about the people who have the capacity to work through their emotional issues but choose not to. The ones who refuse to go to group therapy or counseling, who come in and say "Can't you just give me a pill?"

I truly believe that for most of us, happiness, and mental wellness is a choice. It's an active process that you consciously choose to commit to on a daily basis. Being emotionally healthy and whole is not something that comes in a pill bottle. The pills are tools to help relieve symptoms, but just like any other kind of tool, they aren't going to help you create your wellness if you don't use them properly. Expecting a little bundle of chemicals and food coloring to resolve all of your issues for you is just plain lazy.

Anything worth having is worth working for, and isn't a happy, healthy emotional state worth having?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Starting a new chapter

Last fall Wyatts father and I made an adjustment to our custody agreement. We decided that this summer we would start true joint custody, with Wyatt spending 1 week at his fathers house, and 1 week with me, and we'd begin doing this over the summer to give Wy time to adapt to the change before he started back at school for the fall.

So, here we are, starting this new chapter this week, and I'm already struggling with it a little bit. I know that ultimately this is a good thing for Wyatt - he's getting older, he's starting to head into puberty, and the extra time with his Dad is healthy for him. I may not always agree with his father, but there's no denying the fact that he does love Wyatt, and I firmly believe that boys need their father.

But I miss him already. It's so quiet without the sound of Spongebob or Youtube train videos in the background, nobody's asked me to make them popcorn or waffles, or take them to the train station, nobody wants to use the hose and pretend it's the Auteck 4000 car wash.

He hasn't been gone any longer than he would normally have been, but I know tomorrow when I come home from work he won't be here, and that's making me sad. One of my very favorite parts of the day is snuggling up with him before he goes to sleep, talking and cuddling, and laughing together, and I won't have that with him for a whole week.

My friend Karen and I were talking about this yesterday - she and her husband have that same custody arrangement with his ex-wife. Karen mentioned how this can be a real struggle as a parent - you love your kid, you miss them, but you also start to enjoy having the breather time, then you feel guilty for enjoying the free time from your kid. I know I went through that with John, my older son. I loved having him with me, I missed him terribly when he was with his father, and I had buckets of guilt over enjoying myself when he wasn't with me.

I've spent a while preparing Wyatt for this transition, but I think in doing that I forgot to prepare myself for what it was going to be like for me. Stupid, right?

I think what's going to help is the fact that I'm rehearsing for the show - the weeks that I don't have Wy I'll have that to keep me busy, but the down side is that I'll feel guilty about rehearsing when he's here.

This is really the double edged sword aspect of mothering. You want to do what's best for your kids, but you cause yourself some pain in the process. You do something for yourself, and you feel guilty about taking time away from your kids to do it.

If being a mother doesn't hurt at least a little you're not doing it right.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

WHEE!!! I spun back around again!

Yeah, it's a silly title, what do you expect? I just got off work and my cocktail hasn't kicked in yet.

Most of you know that I've been in rehearsal for a show - it's my first musical in over a decade, and I'm ridiculously excited about it. It's not just the fact that it's a great part, or that I get to work with one of the most talented group of people I've ever been lucky enough to share a stage with. (Seriously, I'm not kidding on the talent part, these folks are freaky good!) For me, a large part of the excitement is that I feel like I'm finally FULLY back to who I am at my core.

Allow me to elucidate...

The last time I did a musical was 1999. I was (at that time) very happily married to Wyatts father, Wyatt wasn't conceived yet, John was in grade school and thriving, I was living in upstate NY, and working in a great job at the VA hospital. I had everything I'd ever wanted for myself - a family, a good career, and the ability to continue performing(even if I wasn't doing it for a living any more). At that point in time I was probably the happiest I'd been in my life. I didn't know it at the time, but that would be my peak for the better part of the early 2000's. Within 2 years I had been basically forced into moving to NC, away from my oldest child, was the sole means of support for our family doing a job I HATED, was in an emotionally abusive marriage that was falling to pieces around me, and had a beautiful little boy who was in the process of being diagnosed with a life long developmental disability.

When you have all that happening it makes the whole "I just want to sing and dance!" attitude seem a little frivolous.

So I put all that on the back burner. I did V-Day, which was really wonderful, and for a cause that I strongly believe in, but from a musical theater geek standpoint, it was kind of like being given an appetizer and then being told the kitchen is closed. I would drive around singing along with Broadway cast albums, get up at Open Mic nights, do karaoke, but it just wasn't the same. I got cast in a play last year, but had to give the part up because of an asinine bid for custody on Waytts fathers part.

It's not that I resent having to stop performing - the reality is that Wyatts needs had to come ahead of mine, that's the deal you make when you become a parent. So I took care of him, went back to school so I could earn more and provide for him better, bought a house because I wanted him to have a real home, and stayed in my marriage to Tim for probably a year longer than I should have because I didn't want Wyatt to be without stability (A stupid decision on my part, I'M his stability, I know that now).

But I'm past that now - Wy's doing wonderfully, John has started on his own career path and is also doing really well, I have a job that I love, I've got a Grove that is a second family to me, and I'm finally back to performing again.

My home is peaceful, my children are happy, and I FINALLY get to FULLY satisfy my creative appetite.

I'm going to put my fingers in my ears now, so when the shit hits the fan I won't hear it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Mean Girl Effect

I was reading an article in the NY Times health section the other day on the cliquish behavior of women in assisted living and long term care, the constant re-establishment of a Jr High level of pecking order, and the bullying and cruelty that goes along with that behavior. It's something that I saw firsthand when I worked in long term care, and apparently it's a serious enough problem that it actually merited a research study.

I don't know that a study was necessary, personally I think they could have just asked my mother - her take on this type of behavior is pretty shrewd. She says that as you get older you just become more of what you already are. So, if you were a bitch and a bully as a kid, and as a young adult, you'll be a bigger bitch and a bigger bully as you become an old lady. If you cling to a small crowd that thinks and acts like you because that's where you get your security from, you'll continue to do that for the rest of your life.

The article stuck with me mainly because of what's been going on at Circle of Moms in the faith based blogging category. A few of the Christian bloggers started acting VERY un Christ like over the fact that Pagan bloggers were nominated for top 25 faith based blogs. Several of them got their saintly white panties in a bunch over the fact that Witches and Heathens and Druids (Oh My!) DARED to write about their faith! They called out the Christian Soldiers to try and keep ONLY Christian blogs in the top 25.

Of course we Witches and Heathens and Druids (Oh My!) responded in the only possible appropriate way. We outvoted the crap out of them. As of right now the top 25 Faith Based blogs by mothers contains 11 Pagan blogs, and #26,27,and 28 are all by pagan women as well!

The reason I connected this article to what was happening on the blog contest was the fact that there was such a sense of entitlement from the Christian bloggers, or at least a few of them. They had this overt attitude of "You don't belong in our club, you can't sit at our table", and that attitude wasn't reserved just for the pagan blogs, it was for anyone that didn't fit into their little clique, Jewish, Muslim, anyone. It was the online equivalent of the catty bunch of cheerleaders that sat in the back of the class making fun of the fact that you didn't have the "cool" shoes or the "right" purse.

I hated that shit in High School, and I guess my mother is right, because I hate even more as an adult. The bitchy, catty, "you're not good enough" attitude is just childish, and it comes from an overinflated sense of self importance which is actually a cover for deep seated insecurity. It's that same insecurity that makes these bitches plaster on big fake smiles and air kiss women that they secretly can't stand, because they're afraid if they deviate in any way from what's expected of them by the "right" crowd that they'll be ostracized. So they'll all rally around the head bully who decides which people are the right kind of people, and they'll pick apart anyone who doesn't fit that mold, and they'll secretly hate themselves for being so weak and pathetic, but they'll go along with it anyway.

Mean girls never die, they just learn to bully online.

And that's fine, those of us that were the target of that kind of behavior growing up have (for the most part) learned how to handle it. We've grown, developed our inner strength, built loving honest, stable friendships and relationships, and learned to love ourselves for who we are.

We've also learned how to outvote the bitches - take THAT Mean Girls!