Yesterday you met Thomas.
If you were to meet him on the street you would not see anything that would indicate he was capable of such violence. He is a handsome young man. Not too tall, slender and well-muscled. He looks athletic and has a bright, happy smile. He probably has his skateboard with him. If he decided he likes you he will turn his charming 1000Kw smile your way and you may end up buying him a cup of Tim’s coffee or a Junior Chicken from McDonald’s. The girls fall for his crooked eyebrow and quirky sense of humor. If he decides he doesn’t like you, he may just beat you up.
Thomas’ family is middle-class, there are several biological children in the home besides Thomas. Thomas came to them through foster care and eventually Jake and Chandra were awarded permanent guardianship of him. Jake is a hard-working man with a big heart and Chandra stays home to care for her children, she’s a crafty lady and does some free-lance work on the side. They are good parents who’ve done their best with their kids. They’ve read a ton of books, researching parenting techniques, what they know about Thomas’ labels and have sought out counsel. They are tired and weary from the war zone that their home has become. They know that if they don’t do something soon, well, they just don’t know. There are no easy answers.
Thomas’ school work isn’t so great. He tends to skip out if things look to difficult. He’s always needed a support system to help him but now that he’s in high school he is choosing more and more often NOT to receive the help he needs. He has a profound learning disability that interferes with his ability to organize himself as well as to process the information he receives in class. This processing disorder makes it difficult to assimilate information. It isn’t that he is less intelligent, though he thinks that is the problem, it has everything to do with how the information is received. Reading is a struggle. Audio/visual works much better. Anxiety has become part of the problem and he is spending more and more time away from the classroom.
On the outside you wouldn’t know that Thomas struggles. He looks like he has it all together. He keeps himself in check at school but when he gets home the frustrations of the day boil over if a trigger sets him off. Living with Thomas is a minefield because finding and avoiding his triggers is so difficult. He is extremely sensitive and the triggers are many. Don’t laugh at the wrong time, don’t ask too many questions, don’t be too loud, make sure the food is what he likes and on and on. Rage, obscenities and violence characterize his outbursts. After a ‘storm’ has passed he shrinks and withdraws into himself. Another scenario that has become prevalent lately is withdrawal. He just stays in his room, watching shows on his phone or talking to his girlfriend or sleeping.
Relationships are difficult for him because his system is set to self-protection at all costs. He trusts no one except himself. Giving and receiving love look very different for Thomas. Everything is on his terms. Whether you can touch him, hug him or even talk to him at any given point. He tends to be a taker and a manipulator. If he can use you he’ll keep you around until you are no longer needed. What few friends he has tend not to stick around for the long haul.
A sense of entitlement tends to fill the air around Thomas. People should clean up after him, give him what he wants and do what he says. Taking responsibility for his actions is not an option, everything is always something or somebody else’s fault. Attempting to help him accept responsibility is another huge trigger point.
Jake and Chandra and the other children in the family have developed coping skills that are far from normal family life. At this point in time, things are somewhat ambient. Chandra has learned to let go of most of her expectations of her son, she tries not to ask him to do too much because it isn’t worth the ensuing damage to home and emotions. Siblings give him a wide berth unless he seems like he is an approachable state. Jake has been gone on business for most of the last few months so things are fairly quiet. Jake, himself, is a trigger for Thomas. Things may change when these business trips are over.
Thomas’ list of labels is fairly extensive and far from extreme in terms of behaviors that are typical for his particular set of cards. He is somewhat attached to Jake and Chandra. He can interact socially with friends. He isn’t addicted to anything and hasn’t been involved in any serious criminal activity. While he is manipulative, sneaky and sometimes does really disgusting things (ie. urinating in inappropriate spots), he’s dealing fairly well with society. His lack of attendance at school is something that Jake and Chandra have decided to let him figure out on his own. The outcome of that won’t be pretty but they feel like they have done all they can short of escorting him to his classes, he needs to take ownership of his education.
Control is an over-riding need for Thomas. This can lead to outbursts or manipulative behavior. He knows how to get what he wants or thinks he needs at the moment. He is particularly hard on those who are the most nurturing to him, they are the ones who are the biggest threat to his feelings of control and self-preservation. Even though Chandra is his champion and continually reminds him of her love for him it is that very action that will trigger him to destroy her if possible. It is a emotional roller-coaster that Chandra has ceased to ride by distancing herself emotionally from Thomas. It is a matter of survival. While it seems counter-intuitive as a parent, allowing Thomas a wide berth allows his defenses to turn off now and then and Chandra might even get an unsolicited hug now and then. This looks like progress to her.
Fairness isn’t practiced in this household. Thomas is treated very differently than the other children and sometimes they see this as unfair, either to themselves or to him. The children are now old enough to be told why some of the decisions have been made but that doesn’t make it easier on anyone.
The future is uncertain for Thomas. It is now up to him whether or not he will overcome his anxiety and finish school, learn to drive and be able to hold down a job, which means following someone else’s plan for the day. There is hope but it is slim.
Thomas’ diagnosis list: learning disability, ODD, RAD, ADHD, possible FASD, developmental delays, anxiety
Tomorrow we will look at the medical definition of RAD – Reactive Attachment Disorder, one of the most debilitating spoons of alphabet soup there is.