Many Aof A readers may be too young to remember the very popular, classic 70’s television show called Love American Style. This show made Friday night sleepovers more thrilling than you can possibly imagine! These were the days before sex saturated the media and the three or four lively and flirtatious vignettes featured each week were funny and oh so titillating.
This last week, (the first official week of school where I live) provided me with four vignettes in what we could call “Childhood American Style.” These sample stories of really neurologically ill children who live just in my neighborhood are reflective of stories playing out all over America, every hour of everyday. It is so awful that I can’t find the right words to express it.
First day of school: Call from a close friend whose daughter has crushing anxiety and phobia issues. These have been ongoing for years and so much time and energy has been put forth by this family to help her function and enjoy life. She has established a fragile truce with life in a big high school but here she is the first day with extreme anxiety and panic over a situation you and I would consider nothing. Her parents have to leave work, talk to counselors and determine how much their daughter can push through and how much assistance to give. “Childhood American Style”.
Second day of school: A good friend from another school district calls to see how my son is making out this week. Both her children have autism. She shares with me that she has found a supported typing therapist in our area who works with non verbal or partially verbal children. We have a long conversation about this and she tells me about what a breakthrough this has been for two of our friend’s children. I hang up the phone reflecting on whether this might be good for my son who talks but who cannot express complex thoughts. As I ruminate on this I realize that I personally know NINE non-verbal children. This leaves me a bit stunned. This number doesn’t include families from my larger biomed support group or local autism community. These are children whose families I know. I ask some people that afternoon if they realize how insane it is that I know that many children nearby WHO CANNOT TALK. “Childhood American Style”.
Third day of school: My husband goes to the gym and sees our oldest son’s close friend. This young man is dear to my heart because he has gone into special education. He spent last year getting his graduate degree and he now has his first real job. He is a resource teacher for 2nd graders with IEP’s in one of our local elementary schools. My husband asks how it is going. He says, “Well today was a really tough day. I got called into a classroom because one of my students was tipping over file cabinets and throwing glass”. He said the file cabinets were so big and heavy he had no idea how this kid did it but the child was very frustrated due to his inability to communicate properly. He was removed from the room and our friend calmed him down. This is the third day of class in a typical suburban elementary school. “Childhood American Style”. Fourth day of School: It’s Friday—finally, and I stick my head in the office of the principal of the school where my older children use to attend. He is an old friend and I wanted to see how his summer had been. His family had taken a missions trip to Africa and it had been wonderful. My big question though was about his 17 year old daughter who for almost two years has suffered from dehabilitating headaches. For two years this perfectly healthy bright, athletic girl has suffered from acute headaches that keep her from school and life. They’ve searched everywhere for an answer. Molds, toxins, Lymes, TMJ, food allergies. She is still not better. “Childhood American Style”.
I know we ask ourselves all the time, but I am asking again. What will it take for our society’s leaders to truly address the extreme childhood health crisis we face.? When will the right people with the right influence see that we can’t keep going like this, that we need real help, real research, real answers, real medicine and a real halt to “Childhood American Style”.
Brooke Potthast lives with her family in Arlington, Virginia and is the founder of the Shire School, a school for children with autism.