Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Chemically-Affected Brain

As long as I have lived with Mike (our eighteen-year-old son with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), and it's been ten years now, I still find it challenging to live with his chemically-affected brain. My emotional response ranges from compassion (it's not really his fault that his birth mother drank while he was in utero), to pity (he's going to end up in serious trouble, and there's nothing we can do about it), to frustration (just figure it out, Mike), to retribution (if that's the way you're going to treat your family, find another place to live), to momentary acceptance (it's just who he is, and we cannot change it).

I think it's the unpredictability that is most unnerving. For nearly four or five days, when he's really trying, he can keep things together. He can follow the house rules, he can be appropriate to those with whom he is living, he acts relatively respectful. But then, without any warning or provocation, he can disappear for days at a time with no word as to his whereabouts. And then, in the midst of the absence, something must click in his brain that says, "Oh, yeah, I should probably call home and let them know where I am." And so we'll receive a telephone call out of the blue, asking, "Is it OK if I stay at [a friend's] tonight?" And this after he has already been gone for hours or days with no notice at all.

That he makes few connections and has little concept of consequence is difficult for me, because all of my life (as with most other "ordinary" people) I have learned causality, either from intentional teaching on the part of my protector or supervisor, or by simple life lessons. This does not translate for someone with organic brain damage. They do not lean from natural consequences, and they are often resistant to any kind of perceived "intrusion" into their lives. Which means there are few alternatives, except the ultimate in consequence, jail or prison.

Here's how things played out last night in my limited interactions with Mike. I returned home from two meetings and one of our seventh grader's concerts to find Mike sitting in our living room watching television. Our eyes met and we exchanged a banal greeting, "Hi." I moved on to my immediate responsibilities, while he continued to numb his mind with the flash and mumble of television.

A few minutes later I could see that he was on the telephone and then sitting in our kitchen expectantly watching out of the window. "Are you going to be leaving?" I asked. "Uh, yeah." "Will you be coming home later tonight?" (It was already after 9:00 PM, and our family policy is to be home by 10:00 PM unless previously approved). "Not sure. I think so." Glancing in his direction I saw that his left eye displayed the tell-tale signs of blackening. "So what happened to your eye?" "I got hit." "So, how did that happen?" "Not sure." "You're not sure how your eye got hit, Mike?" "Not really." Not sure I wanted to pursue this monosyllabic inquiry much further, I simply said, "Oh. OK."

"Any word about my iPod yet?" I queried. "What do you mean?" he asked. "I mean, do you have my iPod back yet?" "Nah." "Well, I'm going to be going to the police about it very soon to report it stolen and to let them know the circumstances." "Yeah, whatever."

I noticed Mike had a backpack on his back, so I said, "What's in the backpack?" "Nothing." "You've got nothing in the backpack, Mike?" "Nope." "Then why are you wearing it?" "Because I just got it today?" His sister affirmed that the item was empty, so I decided not to pursue the issue any further. Shaking my head to myself at the lack of any kind of communication occuring or information having been exchanged, I left the room.

Minutes later he slipped back into the shadows of the cold December night, not another word uttered.

I was in my bedroom reading when our sixteen-year-old son came tromping up the stairs and through the door, throwing himself on our bed. "Mike's a thief" were his opening remarks. "Pardon?" "Mike is a thief. While I was doing my chore he must have gone into my room and stolen my money that I had hidden?" "Where was it?" I asked. He told me where it had been hidden. "But now it's gone." "Is Mike gone, too?" I wondered. "Yeah, and he's probably spending it with [his friend]."

Life with one who has been chemically affected is always a surprise, almost always a disappointment, nearly always a frustration.


R. said...

How much of his lack of consideration is FASD and how much is RAD? I guess that's an impossible question, but I guess what I mean is do you think he might have treated the family differently if he had been able to better attach to y'all years ago?

Sheri said...

I borrowed part of this post. Thanks for putting it so well.

Thnaks for sharing. Peace.

Bart said...

r. makes a good point. The challenge with Mike over the years has been his multiple diagnoses. When he came to us at the age of 8 he had these diagnoses: PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). It didn't take long for us to figure out there was "more" there. In the past decade he has managed to acquire several more designations: FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, diagnosed at 13), RAD (reactive attachment disorder, diagnosed earlier than 13), NPD (narcissistic personality disorder, diagnosed at about 14). With the barrage of challenges Mike has had, I'm not sure healthy attachment was possible (God knows we have tried for years with that piece) for him. And at this point, as an "adult," Mike's "system connections" are only criminal justice people, and they have no interest in diagnoses. They simply want adherence to the law (as do we). The difference between the "professionals" and us these days is that they have to believe it is possible for him to change, and our experience of ten years makes us wonder how possible that really is. But, in the end, it still doesn't answer the question: "What do we do with Mike?" And that's the hardest question of all, because we didn't adopt kids to "make" them homeless.

Don said...

r. raises a good question. While my son has not been diagnosed with FASD, he most definitely shows signs of RAD. Your stories about Mike bring my son to mind every time. Now I'm wondering if my son has FASD, or if this is what a child diagnosed with ADHD does when he also suffers from RAD.

It is odd, though. At times it seems as though my son is attaching (although friendships don't come easily), but he typically "attaches" when there's something down the road that he wants for himself, and is generally "attached" to adults who can make that happen for him. He is, after all, the kid who couldn't decide while waiting for an appointment with his therapist if he was better at manipulating little children or adults. One will do what he wants, and the other can afford what he wants.

Believe me, I feel your aggravation with this one.