Laura Olexa

from Tumwater, WA

I am a single parent with a special needs child.  That's how I usually introduce myself to new people.  It's difficult to explain all the hoops I've had to jump through to get my son help, but it's been worth every heartache and every tear.  I noticed about the age of two or three that my son was extremely active, sometimes violent and unable to play with other children.  He was given the “boot” from so many daycares, I've lost count.  Once, I went over to one of his daycares to watch him through a window when he didn't know I was looking and I cringed at what I saw. Everything the daycare had been saying he was doing was true.  That was the beginning of a long and painful road for both of us. I took him to his pediatrician and asked for help. She said she was exhausted after each of his ten minute visits and that she couldn't do anything but refer us to a psychiatrist. I was stunned to think a child at such a young age could be labeled as “mental.” 

Shortly thereafter, I noticed that he began tying himself up really tight and seemed to like it.  I'd find him with rope, string, belts, dog leashes, etc., wrapped around his legs, arms, neck until it left lines in his skin.  I took the pediatrician up on the referral to the psychiatrist.  I met the psychiatrist a week later and he put my son on lithium, an adult dose, and then went on vacation.  My son ended up very ill and we never went back to him.  The insurance company was not helpful when I begged them to be able to go to someone who could diagnose him.  After appeals and denials, letters and threats, they finally sent us out of state to get help.  At that point, I had no daycare and my job was in jeopardy.  We'd make monthly trips 300 miles round trip to see a psychiatrist who said he thought my son had a number of things going on including bipolar. 

About six months later, he retired and I had to try and find another psychiatrist.  I followed one of his partners up to my home state’s Children's Hospital and she at first said she would not take his case.  I begged her to at least review it and she finally agreed.  I faxed a pile of papers, letters and such plus, an 8x10 photo of my son.  She called back and said the photo was a nice touch and agreed to take the case for one visit only.  That was four or five years ago.  She isn't sure he is bipolar in the true sense, but is thinking mixed bipolar. He also has tourettes, obsessive/compulsive, high functioning aspergers, oppositional defiance disorder, etc.  The psychiatrist has even video taped him during some of our visits because he's so unique. 

He's a great kid, with a funny sense of humor, very dramatic, and then he becomes very dark, wanting to die, wanting to kill me, wanting to physically hurt me. I've often had to put him in a scissor hold to protect both of us.  He's been in several different schools, had multiple inpatient stays in the psychiatric unit.  He's only nine now and almost as big as me.  He has no friends and what friends I have all know him and accept him.  I have a difficult time finding someone to watch him, even if I pay triple the going rate.  We either go together or I don't get to go at all.  I've missed so many things in the last seven years, I often get moments of anger for being saddled with him, but then I look at him and am glad he's mine.  I don't know what the future holds.  We've tried every kind of medication out there but he doesn't seem to tolerate much.  Every time he goes through a growth spurt means a fresh batch of problems.  He has good days and bad days, throws tantrums, rages, pounds the walls, threatens me, then a while later, he tells me he loves me and gives me a hug and kiss like nothing ever happened.  I had to change jobs a few years ago because I often have to telecommute on his bad days or when he loses his after-school care.  Summer is a dreadful time for us because I have to beg the city programs to take him on a day-to-day basis and always have to be available to get him when they call.

We're moving this summer, across town so he can start a new school and meet new kids.  I'm hopeful that things will be different but know that he will just face new challenges.  The house we'll have is larger and I'll be able to have him stay for as long as he needs.  The professionals are unsure if he will be able to be on his own because, although he's very smart, he's very naive and so desiring friends that he'll be a sure target for someone to take advantage of.

One of the saddest things that I will end up doing in a week or so is to visit the residential program at the state's mental hospital.  His psychiatrist, his psychologist and my counselor all want me to look into the possibly of placing him there in the future.  I can't imagine doing that, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that I have to prepare myself that it might be necessary later on.  I don't understand this; I don't want to ever let him go. Yet I also know that if I can't find him some successful help somewhere, that he could very well become a threat to himself or others.  I've already dealt with those parents and co-workers who say that they don't believe in his diagnosis. That is, until they've spent sometime with him, then they definitely change their tune!  For the people who we don't know, I really don't care anymore.  I've traveled with him recently to Disneyland, and he ran away from me more times than I can count.  I couldn't do much but wait 'til he came back, which he always did.  It was exhausting, fun, irritating, and a joy all at once.  I figured that if he would have to experience life with all these problems, that I would do my best to give him all that I could give him for his future memories.  My life is not dull, never the same and I end up changing each time he changes in a new direction.  I have no regrets, and I have many, all at once.  

Looking back, what could have been done at the time to improve the situation? Treatment, medication, a different approach, or understanding from others around you?

More education on what bipolar is for medical personnel, parents, teachers, etc.  I'd like to see more funding given to the diagnoses, treatment and education of our next generation.  It scares me to think that we're raising a whole generation of kids who have mental issues, with very little help and support, and these are the kids that will take care of us when we are elderly! Each and every public school in the nation should devote a portion of their budget to a special classroom to teach children who have these issues because no one child is similar to another.  My son's psychiatrist isn't sure he's a true bipolar because he doesn't exhibit all the known symptoms. Then again, he has a variety of issues that are all mashed together, which is probably very common among these kids.

I would like to see more programs and funding to help parents like me, be able to provide a better life for these kids.  If I was on state assistance, DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services), etc. I could get all sorts of care for him, but because I choose to work, he is not eligible for a lot of stuff.  I work hard to provide for us, I work multiple jobs in addition to my regular 40 hours a week, cleaning homes, doing yard work, etc., and he comes with me because I can't find him care.  I'm 46 this year and worry that I won't be able to keep up this pace, but I don't dwell too much on that because I have a child to support and I would go to the ends of the earth for him. (and other times would like to send him to the end of the earth!) I don't know what to say except that I'm tired and would like something to change.  My son, as are all the other kids like him, entitled to a decent education, child care, etc. as the "normal" kids. 

Back to listener stories

©2018 American Public Media