Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Before Judging Nancy Lanza, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

I had the pleasure to work with adults with disabilities over twenty years and thought the job was one of the best experiences of my lifetime.  

Those adults who participated in Special Olympics have been affectionately referred to as “special adults.” 

These men and women with disabilities were most certainly special.

But as the years progressed, more men and women were enrolling in the program that had complex  mental health issues.  These adults had mental health issues which existed during their childhood and therefore qualified them for services as adults.   Adults with the most severe of  mental health issues---largely lack the social and vocational skills to successfully  function in society.  Those adults or children with the most severe mental health issues require more assistance than those adults who were born with "only" mental retardation. 

And though the term "special adults” is meant to be endearing, I have always felt the parents and family members who supported their disabled children or siblings well into adulthood were actually the special adults.

For you see, the parents of children with disabilities will never really get a break from their parental duties.  

While parents of children without disabilities, will see their children go to college or raise a family, the parents of a disabled child will continue to be an involved parent when other parents their age are experiencing the dreaded yet welcomed empty nest syndrome.

A family member with a life time disability is a life time commitment for his or her family and hopefully if government funds are available the adult with a disability can receive some state assistance for their housing or medical needs.

Some of the adults with disabilities are the most easily to love and care for and are accepted into society.  Whereas others can be very difficult to love and embrace as their social skills can be severely wanting.   Some of these adults with mental health disabilities can be abused, abuse drugs and alcohol,  and often find themselves perpetrators of or victims of criminal acts.

As we all know, a  young man who by all accounts had severe mental health issues that required his mother’s attention committed the recent murders in Newton Connecticut. 

It is very easy to be critical of Nancy Lanza’s care of her son because of the heinous act he committed.  After an event, our vision is always 20-20.  By all accounts, Ms. Lanza was a good mother and was doing her best to assure her son’s acceptance into a society that she probably knew that he would never be fully integrated into.   

Her mistake----and how would she have known---was perhaps allowing her son to engage in shooting guns. And of course this will be never fully understood by parents of children without disabilities and the parents and friends of the deceased victims. But what I have read, Ms Lanza was exposing her son to normal activities which many men his age enjoyed doing.  By all accounts, her son severely lacked social skills and how her son processed the information is something we will never know other than that he killed the one person who advocated for his well-being. 

Ms. Lanza wanted her son to have the full life experiences that other adults his age had.

For those of us who do not have  family member with a severe mental health disability it is easy to judge Ms. Lanza harshly for some of her parenting decisions.   But those who have a family member with a mental health disability----probably understood Ms. Lanza and her attempt to integrate her son into a society.   

And until we have walked a mile in her shoes or the parents of children with severe mental health disabilities, it would be very unfair to judge Nancy Lanza and how she raised her son. . 

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