It is difficult finding mental health services for skill building and socialization for a young adult with ADHD. Why should he need services? How disabling is ADHD? Surely ADHD is not as debilitating as Autism or being Developmentally Disabled. Yet, young adults with ADHD, while being very bright and seemingly capable, have difficulty fitting in with others in society, when they are filled with anxiety and frustration. Anxiety is difficult to overcome even with medication for a young adult that has grown up in a world where bullying is commonplace.
I’ve come to realize long ago that my child doesn’t want to be difficult. He is a loving person trying to navigate through life where everyone else is different and sometimes very mean.
One of my greatest fears raising a child who needs to take a cocktail of medication in order to sit, learn, and deal with others without becoming assaultive is that he will get in with the wrong crowd to be socially accepted and start drinking and drugging, overdose, and die. This tends to make me seem over protective and unwilling to let go.
Many opportunities for socialization and inclusion were taken from him due to health issues. Early on playing sports he was injured, lost consciousness, and had a seizure on the field. We all feared this might happen again and he stopped playing sports. As a child of divorce and having to moving a few consecutive years, trying to fit in, as the new kid without an interest to engage with other young teens had been difficult. We had tried cub scouts, when he was younger and even as an assistant leader to my child’s troop, I saw as the others treated him poorly because of his excessive energy and being an outsider. Being excluded became the norm and further alienated him from the mainstream causing him more depression and anxiety.
He began at the alternative high school the year after his hospitalization for suicidal ideation, having had an adverse reaction to the drugs he was prescribed that were not approved for children. I don’t know if it was the drugs or being put away in a mental hospital for two weeks but when he came home to me, my fourteen year old was like a four-year old. I spent the next year tutoring him at home and raising him all over again.
The alternative school was an excellent choice as far as keeping him safe and educating him but the others in this program, where there because they didn’t fit in to mainstream schools because of behaviors which had them, involved with the law. They were tough kids; juvenile delinquents’: assaultive, thieves, and drug addicts. I wasn’t afraid of him being accepted in this crowd. The staff at the school welcomed, supported, and made the rules flexible to deal with my son’s unique needs. They recognized his kindness and his longing to be accepted. And there, with the adult staff he was accepted and he succeeded graduating early while also engaging in a vocational program graduating at the top of his class.
As fearful as I was to letting go, he went away to college to further pursue the vocational program of his choosing, living on campus managing his medication on his own. On campus other students picked on his differences and his inappropriate responses to being bullied became the focus of campus police, as was his struggle with anxiety. On the upside, he made many friends before they dismissed him seven weeks into the semester even when the bullies gained respect for him: seeing beyond his fidgeting that he was very knowledgeable and willing to assist even them. The administration feared: his differences, his difficulty transitioning from horseplay with the guys to study time, and mostly his anxiety/frustration to express himself appropriately and comply when intimidated by their presence. Having been in this situation with him I can say having your liberty of movement being restricted as if you’re a convicted criminal as ones personal space is invaded, I too felt intimidated, angered, and had difficulty controlling myself as my anxiety increased under the circumstances.
They will allow him to return next September, on probation, all strikes against him remain and he will have to live independently off campus, but they will allow him an education. There is another state school that offers this program, however this school is number one and where he wants to be. Being set on this, he wants to return. Part of the conditions for his return is that he participates in a mental health skills program, continue on his medication, and obtain local support services.
Even though he will have to once again start at the beginning, the positive is that he knows the instructors and they want him to come back. He also has some friends that have survived the freshman year and who are looking forward to his return. He also knows what is not acceptable. Although he has all the strikes against him, he has all this going for him, unlike starting over at a new school. He is determined to succeed. My concern is that he will continue to be bullied by campus police. I plan to have him return with VESID on his side.
I’ve been speaking with advocates at Action Toward Independence who have referred us to the County Mental Health Services and after speaking at great length with the social worker she determined the best way to engage my son in skills services would be in a private workshop and then as a volunteer assistant to the program for 7-11 year olds, after which he could work with the 13-20 year olds receiving services, assisting the program, learning/assisting the teaching of these skills to those less able and capable than himself as a peer advocate.
We have a lot of work ahead of us getting ready to September. I have some fears but my son is confident that I will be able to obtain the housing and get all the support services in place for him. I have confidence that he will be responsible with his medication and appointments. It’s the bumps in the road that cause me anxiety. It is his strong sense of independence and determination, which may blind him towards signs of caution that I fear. Should this not work, we will not give up, but go onto another school. It is facing the failures emotionally and financially that most concerns me. My son will be educated in his vocation become employable in this economy, and become a productive member of society, not a burden to it. It is my responsibility to see he has every opportunity to be a successful person with disabilities in a world that still discriminates against those with mental illness.
Are you your child’s best advocate?
Do you find difficulty finding acceptance?
Have you learned to navigate for services?